Not the Whole Story
The U.S. media and federal government have stirred up a toxic cauldron media blitz that has been force-feeding U.S. citizenry only partial truths and irresponsible generalizations about the violence plaguing Mexico. If to be believed, the entire country of Mexico, some 109 million people, would be cowering in their homes fearful of venturing too far out lest they be caught up in random drug violence or kidnappings.
Mexico is the 14th largest independent nation in the world with crime per capita (based on 2006 statistics) of 12 per 1,000 people, ranking 39 in a survey of 60 countries. If one took the time to do a bit of research instead of believing the selective, if not deceptive reporting and scare tactics that have become the norm in U.S. mainstream media, and of which few of us ever question, we might be surprised to learn that based on statistics of non-violent crimes and violent crimes such as homicide, the U.S., at times, ranks neck in neck based on demographics and location, and in some categories, surpasses Mexico.
Random Acts Versus Non-Random Acts of Violence
- Drug cartels in Mexico are rampant and the escalating drug violence has wreaked havoc primarily on U.S./Mexican border towns.
- U.S. citizens are not primary targets in places such as Mexico City or other tourist destinations as many would believe. Kidnappings in Mexico City are largely of wealthy Mexicans who are held for ransom.
- While U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in the past several years, they are not being singled out as media would have us believe.
- Much of the violent crime in Mexico is Non-Random, i.e. targets are usually those involved in illegal drug trafficking or police and other government officials attempting to regulate crime in towns along the U.S./Mexican border.
If you look at the recent State Department warnings, including warnings specifically aimed at college students traveling to the Gulf Coast of Mexico, you will note that many of the warnings listed are not about drug violence or kidnappings, but the strong ocean undertow, potentially dangerous aquatic life, advantageous “petty” crime often perpetrated on inebriated tourists or those not exercising common sense as one needs to whenever traveling abroad – or for that matter – to any U.S. city where crime is more prevalent.
- Most cities and towns in Mexico are safe and are not dangerous places to live or visit.
- The drug violence is primarily isolated to the U.S./Mexican border.
- Most guns used in the illegal drug trade and in acts of violence throughout Mexico have been coming into the country from the United States.
- Anyone traveling to a foreign country should always exercise caution and do their homework before leaving.
- You can be a victim of crime no matter where you are: abroad, in any U.S. city, in your hometown.
When one compares statistics and types of crimes worldwide, Random Acts of Violence are perhaps the most threatening and leave us feeling the most vulnerable. In the U.S., random violence is something to which we have either become accustomed or numb – whether mass murders on a college campus, an elementary school playground, neighborhood mall, or children being snatched from their beds and sexually abused and worse.
According to recent statistics, the homicide rate in Mexico is approximately 13 for every 100,000 individuals. FBI numbers list the murder rate for Baltimore as 43.3 to 100,000, Washington D.C. 29.1 to 100,000, and Detroit as 47.3 for every 100,000 citizens. Naturally, the handful of Mexican border towns, which are the areas experiencing the brunt of the wanton violence born of the illegal drug trade, have homicide rates that are not reflective of the country as a whole, but mirror the inflated numbers seen in the most violent U.S. cities and metropolitan areas.
We are told and indoctrinated to be “afraid of other” – to be fearful of the perceived unknown – Mexico, when in fact, we are far more likely to experience or witness a criminal act or be a victim of such in our own country.
Living or Vacationing in Mexico: The Ripple Effect
Mexico is a country with a staggering poverty rate that is only worsening due to the impact of a flailing U.S. economy coupled with irresponsible media fear mongering. In a country where much of the economy is sustained by the tourist trade, Mexicans are hurting as are expat business owners.
According to Wesley Gleason of Agave Real Estate, which was recently voted as the top real estate agency in the tourist town of San Miguel de Allende, business has been floundering. Naturally, this is a reflection of the housing and stock market decline in the U.S., coupled with the perception that Mexico is no longer “safe,” and fewer and fewer U.S. citizens are purchasing homes in the area. The real estate market here has been hard hit, some transactions in progress have bottomed out due to potential home buyers worrying about the continued decline of the economy, safety issues, or banks pulling out of loan negotiations or bypassing on loans all together. Katharine Hibberts of Premier House Rentals of San Miguel has seen the same decline. People, once only concerned about the economy are now twice as worried due to the U.S. media blitz about the “rife drug violence.” Unfortunately, they are not paying attention to where this violence is indeed widespread, and where it is not – and regardless if you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away from the thick of it, Mexico is now perceived as a lawless and dangerous land.
I’ve talked with many business owners in San Miguel, proprietors of small restaurants to tiny tiendas and shops selling goods from local producers to those from Oaxaca and other areas. They are all seeing the downturn, the lack of tourists, and the lack of revenue filtering in. Many of these business owners rely heavily on tourist dollars to make ends meet, provide food and shelter for their families.
In a city that prides itself on tourism and of which is kept afloat by these dollars, San Miguel is feeling the backlash. That said other tourist destinations throughout Mexico have been even harder hit – some coastal cities and towns once overrun by U.S. and Canadian snowbirds or college students on spring break – were and are nearly empty during the height of the tourist season.
It seems unfair, if not criminal, to “punish” an entire society or unjustly “label” a country based on generalizations and fear-mongering triggered by isolated incidents of violence primarily due to the illegal drug trade which is playing out along the U.S., Mexico border towns. Certainly not all, but most of the violent crime due to the escalating drug violence in Mexico is Non-Random – and this is something that U.S. citizens must understand and research.
As we were reminded when young, “don’t believe everything you’re told.” As concerned, insightful, intelligent human beings, it is up to us to further research and investigate anything that we are “told” or “warned” about – whether a doctor’s diagnosis, the foods we eat, the prescription drugs we take, or where we choose to live and travel.
The last couple of years, I have been living half of my life in Mexico; a choice born both of pleasure and economic hardship. Thankfully, with my computer in tow, I can work from most anywhere, and the cost of living is far less than in my hometown in Maine. In Mexico, I don’t drive a car and for six months of the year, I am “gasoline” free. I do not need to heat my rental apartment and what I pay in rent is nearly comparable to what I would pay to heat my home with oil during the winter and spring months in Maine. Food in my Mexican city runs approximately half of what I’d pay back home, a doctor or dentists’ visit, a fraction of the cost of what one would owe in the States.
I can walk to my local grocery store or produce market and come home with bags laden with mangoes and broccoli, papayas and fresh strawberries, whole grain breads, homemade yogurts and cheeses, nuts and dark Mexican chocolate and have spent pennies on the dollar when in comparison to shopping in Maine. The other day a huge, emerald green head of broccoli just trucked in from the campo cost me 30 cents, a bag of 13 eggs with yolks the color of sunflowers, cost 65 cents.
I can walk. I can walk most anywhere, day or night, unafraid. I feel even safer living here than I did when living in San Francisco, CA. I walk to shops, galleries, restaurants, live music in the jardin. I walk from one end of Centro to the other, often solo, at times with friends. If late at night and I feel it is questionable to walk alone, I’ll grab a taxi. I use the same rationale as I would when in any U.S. city or town, during any of my travels abroad.
I feel safe here.
No place is perfect. I am not delusional nor do I bury my head in the sand. Violence can happen anywhere. The strength and power is in being informed. Do your homework. Do not fall victim or prey to misinformation or half-truths, or news that is meant to propagate fear or paranoia.
Living fully and freely is often based on getting the facts – not relying on others to tell you how or where to travel or live – but taking responsibility for your own life by educating yourself, and only then, can you make a decision that is best for you, based on all the facts.
I love Mexico. I love the people, the culture, and the beauty of the land and the plethora of gifts it has to offer. I love the sense of family and community. The warmth and colors that pale the sun are simply icing on the cake.
I try to live my life with a healthy balance of common sense, education and information whether when living in San Francisco, Maine, or Mexico, traveling anywhere within the U.S., or the world. And hopefully, with that balance in tow I am able to live the life I choose – and live it well.
Note: This article originally appeared here, and is reprinted with permission.