The Problem with “Non-Natural” Death Statistics | The Truth About Mexico

Categorized | Yucatan

The Problem with “Non-Natural” Death Statistics

A post by "Palabra Arriba" |

Palabra Arriba has lived in Mexico for three years, and wants his friends and family to stop worrying. To see more posts by this author, click here.

A frightening statistic that we often see repeated on the anti-Mexican, anti-travel, possibly racist, but certainly xenophobic “scare blogs” is the one about the number of “non-natural” deaths reported in Mexico. Some sites report that 27% (though we have seen percentages as high as 35%) of all “non-natural” deaths of Americans outside of their home country occur in Mexico. Those are big, scary numbers, and they are designed to elicit fear in the reader, to sell newspapers, and to perpetuate the myth that Mexico is some kind of lawless Wild West, inhabited by tequila-soaked gunslingers. The problem is, those numbers, well, kind of lie.

Here’s the trouble: To begin with, let’s discard those big, scary percentages, and figure out how many people we are talking about. It turns out that, in the last six years (or at least, until November, 2008), 1,300 American citizens have died in Mexico due to “non-natural” causes. [Source: US State Department]

To put that into perspective, in the year 2005, about 117,000 Americans died in America due to “accidents.” In the same year, 2005, 19,656 Americans died by “falling unintentionally.” 32,691 were killed by “poisoning,” and 4,248 were killed by “drowning.” [Source: US Center for Disease Control] Remember, this is in ONE YEAR, 2005.

What can we extrapolate from the above data? Many, many, many more Americans die in America each year due to “non-natural” causes than anywhere else in the world.

There is, however, something else that is misleading about the “non-natural” death statistics quoted on anti-Mexico websites, and that is the term “non-natural.” Did you know that, as reported by the US State Department, “non-natural” includes both drowning and motor vehicle accidents? In fact, when you actually look at the statistics, American deaths in Mexico are almost all due to drowning and motor vehicle accidents.

Why this high amount of drowning and traffic accident deaths? Because some people come to Mexico to party. And when they party, they drink. And when they drink too much, they forget how to do things like swim and operate heavy machinery. And even in that case, there are still far, far, far more drownings and car accidents in the USA, than by Americans in Mexico.

The problem with playing the statistics-comparing game is that, through careful wording and methodology, statistics can be used to prove almost any point. When used as a persuasive or argumentative talking point, this renders them pretty meaningless. There is something willfully disingenuous, though, in using the “30% of all non-natural deaths of Americans outside of the United States occurs in Mexico” phrase as the basis for argument or discussion about the relative safety here. There is something about that phrase that almost makes it seem like one in three Americans traveling to Mexico will be killed, and that’s simply not the case.

In fact, as an American living in America, you’re probably smarter to be worried about being killed by lightning, by a vending machine falling on you, or by alligators. These present much, much greater a threat, than travel to Mexico.

Be wary and question the motivations of those “sources” which use hysterical language, those which are operated by the grieving parents of accident victims, or those of the fearmongering media. Mexico is beautiful. Mexico is safe for tourists. And Mexico is right in your backyard.

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. RiverGirl Says:

    I’m in the middle of studying this very issue right now. I’ve got a stack of copies of death reports of foreigners who’ve died in the Cancun/Riviera Maya area on my desk.

    One thing I’ve found so far is that the largest number of foreigner deaths in this area is due to Heart Attacks (considered a Natural death). The second largest set of deaths is from drowning (considered a Violent & Non-Natural death). The third leading cause of death of foreigners is actually choking or some kind of asphyxiation not due to drowning (this is a Natural death). And the forth leading cause of foreigners deaths here is auto accidents (a Violent death).

    Back to the choking deaths, in some cases there is a secondary cause of death listed for these. Sometimes it is “food in the bronchial tubes.” more commonly the secondary cause of death shows “alcoholism” or something related to it, this leads one to think that these people may have gotten drunk and then choked on their own vomit, though this isn’t stated directly.

    I will post more about this data when I’ve had a chance to study it better.

  2. Khaki Says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I am a grandmother who thinks nothing of running up and down the road between Brownsville and Yucatan with no company other than my old dog. While I will admit to a few “adventures” (of my own making) in the early years, I have always been perfectly safe and know of no other expat who has not been safe. In fact, the safety issue is one of the reasons many of older expats are afraid to grow old north of the border. Too scary for me!

  3. Danny Jacks Says:

    You should have mentioned the percentage of Americans that travel to Mexico vs. other country’s. Mexico is the biggest travel destination (by far) than any other foreign country for U.S. citizens. Even if all other data and crime statistics were identical in every other foreign country, Mexico would still top the list as the highest percentage of non-natural deaths outside of the U.S. simply due to the volume of travel to Mexico vs. any other country. It’s simple math!

    I dont know what country comes in second on the list of most traveled to by U.S. citizens, but I bet you a dollar to a doughnut that it also comes in second on the list of non-natural deaths outside of the U.S.! Again, it’s simple math!

  4. BeSafe Says:

    According to the U.S. Dept of Commerce (see link below) Mexico is not that far ahead of Canada when it comes to receiving U.S. tourists. But….according to the Death of U.S. Citizens Abroad numbers you are 31 times more likely to die in Mexico than you are in Canada. I’m not making these numbers up, these are facts from U.S. Gov’t websites. The travel industry has been covering up these numbers for years but our organzation is slowly uncovering them. If anything, the number of U.S. citizens that have died in Mexico is understated and I have contacted the State Department on more than one occassion to add “missing” victims to their list.

    Number of deaths in Canada = 21
    Number of deaths in Mexico = 651

  5. Palabra Says:

    Hi “BeSafe,”

    I know what a big fan of that “651” statistic you are, and how often you use it on your website to try and dissuade tourists from visiting Mexico. The problem is that it includes all “non-natural deaths,” which includes drownings, balcony-falls, and motor vehicle accidents. The number of deaths caused by violence or crime can be measured in the tens, not hundreds.

    There are obviously far fewer drowning and balcony-fall deaths in Canada. Because it’s cold. And their balconies aren’t as much fun.

    You obviously have an agenda, and that’s fine, but we suggest keeping it on your own, hysterical website, where reader feedback is not allowed, and stop trying to obscure reasoned, rational thought, and unbiased examination of the data, with your silliness.


  6. Voyageur Says:

    I’m trying to learn the number of tourist deaths by drowning in Mexico. I can’t seem to find any anywhere. Only shock-blogs and personal stories. Anyone know how or where I can get this? Like MX govt? Cdn or US govt?

    My personal shock story: My friend drowned in MX after saving a woman and two children. She chose to ignore the red flags. No lifeguards. 4 star resort. He had not been drinking. Others were hospitalized in the attempts to save everyone involved. His wife is now twice widowed at 40 yrs. old.

    What I gather from various internet writings is that the only thing that increases while in MX is the likelihood you’ll do something you wouldn’t normally do on home-turf.

    Likelihood of drinking more and more often; of swimming in an ocean which, though it looks like a really big one, is nothing at all like a lake; to take an adventure (parasailing, scuba, etc); to have a tryst with an exotic stranger; of being much wealthier than the local population and therefore a more lucrative target; to buy drugs from a stranger; and for women, to dress & act sexier than you ever do at home (wet t-shirt contests/girls gone wild) and expecting a safe outcome.

    All of these increase the liklihood of injury, harassment and death.

    and….sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  7. Lisa Says:

    Thank you for your informed article. I came upon the ridiculous website,, and felt compelled to post a comment. It probably won’t be posted but that’s to be expected.

    I have been traveling to Mexico for the last 28+ years. My most recent visit was in October 2009 with my boyfriend. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had. I’ve never been so welcomed by people.

    You’re absolutely right in mentioning that visitors to these resorts tend to drink WAY too much. Their behavior is absolutely appalling…dancing on the tables, yelling at the staff, no tips, vomiting everywhere. Can you wonder why the staff is hesitant to help?

    Then again, if these are the same people that buy into the shock-blogs, maybe it’s a good thing that they stay away from the beautiful destination that is Mexico.

    I’ve worked in the travel industry since 1995. Tragedy can strike anywhere. Always buy travel insurance. Always check & register with the State Department website.

  8. Palabra Says:

    Thanks Lisa. Beware of websites with strong opinions that don’t allow reader feedback. It’s never a good sign.

  9. Quiere Que Says:

    Thanks for this article!

    One aspect of this term “American deaths” is that the reader assumes the face is white. In fact so many Americans who die “non-natural” deaths of the violent kind are in fact of pure Mexican ancestry. People have an absurd idea that all Mexicans are Mexican citizens, or that upon establishing a southern border in 1848, all Mexican-blooded people went home. In fact there are millions of legitimate US citizens who are of Mexican ancestry and speak Spanish as their first language.

    Thus when these Americans of Mexican ancestry go to Mexico to get involved with drug dealings, it is easy to confuse the numbers about these citizens with other white-bread average Joes who don’t speak Spanish, who go to, say, Cancun for a week.

    Plenty of Spanish-speaking Americans of Mexican ancestry are involved in border state drug rackets, and I would bet that if we examined the number of Americans killed in drug issues, this social strata would make up a good 98%.

    Hence the witchcraft of “schmatistics…”

  10. Billie.blt Says:

    I’m SO glad I came across this blog. I read yesterday the mexicovacationawareness site and it scared the bejeebus out of me — almost to the point that I was going to cancel my trip in February and eat the cost of the trip. (My best friend that is traveling with me would have been furious with me!) I would probably not drive there or visit the hot border areas because of the State Dept. warnings.

  11. Jim Scherrer Says:

    Here´s a very detailed article titled “The Facts Concerning Violent Crimes Committed Against US Tourists in Mexico”:

    It´s loaded with facts and data related to US homicides in Mexico.

  12. Jim Scherrer Says:

    I´ve just finished a little detective work on Derek Armstrong, the author of the crap that´s being spread all over the Internet in an attempt to annihilate tourism in Mexico. Obviously this guy has an ulterior motive so I decided to determine what it is!
    As I mentioned in my article, he´s with Crime Report USA ( which sounds like a pretty harmless deal. He´s a well published author and the founder of Persona Corp ( in Ontario, Canada. Here is the link that ties Armstrong to Persona (
    Now that we´ve established who he is, we must ask, “Why is he trying to destroy tourism to Mexico?” Well, it just so happens that Persona Corp is very proud of their clients; you´ll notice that their client list ( includes the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, a half a dozen real estate developers, and many other companies in Ontario that would love to see Americans cancel their plans to Mexico and visit Ontario instead. Armstrong also does work for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, as such, he has also led us to believe in his articles that making films in Mexico is dangerous as well.

  13. The Murder and War Death Index Says:

    ICESI, a normally reliable source, are claiming less murders in Chihuahua than newspaper cuttings are saying in Juarez alone. I don’t know what to make of that.

  14. J Gailey Says:

    We love Mexico, and are curently living in Zihuatanejo, Gro. Further, we agree with your arguments about the hype concerning non-natural American deaths here.

    But in the interest of clarity, you can’t correctly compare such deaths in Mexico with the number in the US, because you are using a different base: there are over 300 million people living in the US, but only a tiny fraction of that number travel to Mexico. So it gives us no “perspective” to compare the two directly. Of course the numbers will be much higher in the US.

    Aside from that, your point is still well taken.

    Apparently though, the “news” about the dangers of Mexico is not getting out to Canadians, because we notice the majority of visitors in Guererro is from Canada. Is our US press more efficient, or our populace more gullible?

  15. May Roach Says:

    Thanks so much for this! Was searching Yahoo and found you! 🙂

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