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Peter Greenberg’s “The Royal Tour: Mexico”

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Peter Greenberg’s “The Royal Tour: Mexico”


I hope everyone will get a chance to see this documentary. Peter Greenberg traveled México with President Felipe Calderón. This link to The Royal Tour: Mexico will give you all the details.

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Christian Science Monitor


The CSM’s reporter for Latin America, Sara Llanes, visited Merida a few weeks ago to find out if what she suspected was true… that expats who live and work in Merida Yucatan feel a lot safer here than most media is reporting. Sure enough, she found a lot of us who felt that way. And it wasn’t just the two of us who escorted her around to show her the sights. We stopped to talk to some expats who were renovating a home on Calle 53. This was unplanned and unannounced. Sara talked to the two of them, and to a Yucatecan couple who just happened to be walking down the street. Her planned meetings with Dan and Martha went expectedly well too. And, as a result of her weekend here, which she and her husband (who both live in Mexico City) thoroughly enjoyed, we have this article: American Expats Feel Safe South of the Border

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Death in La Frontera – Courtesy USA

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Death in La Frontera – Courtesy USA


The AP report very clearly illustrates why the USA policy of the prohibition of recreational drugs is such a really, really bad idea and the policy’s effects on other nations, and not just on Mexico. There are many Latin American and Caribbean nations rife with organized criminals engaged in supplying the USA demand for such drugs.

Market forces are irresistible. Where a market demand exists that demand will be supplied, whether legally or otherwise. The difference being that supplying the demand for an illegal good is much more lucrative, as its prohibition has radically raised the price beyond its real cost. So much more lucrative, in fact, that folks are willing to risk their freedom and lives to supply the market. So much more lucrative that those engaged in supplying the market are willing to eliminate their competitors with extreme prejudice. So much more lucrative that many Mexican military special forces troops forsook the military life to join the “Zetas”, first as “enforcers” for drug trade criminal organizations; and these days hostilely taking over those criminal organizations by executing their proprietors.

That’s what’s going on in Mexico these days, most prominently in the “frontera”, the Mexican/USA border region.

Prohibition of alcohol, we of the USA should remember, resulted in criminals organizing to make lots of money supplying the market demand for liquor and beer. With so much money at stake some of the organized criminals decided to disorganize and began killing their competitors to garner a larger share of the market, thus greater personal profits.

Again, it’s perfectly legal in the USA for folks to wig out daily on pharmaceutical psychotropic drugs, but one may not smoke pot grown in the back yard to get through the day. Why?

The only explanation I am able to fathom is pharmaceutical industry profits.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, you see, don’t kill their competitors in pursuance of greater market share. They, being very well organized, have found it much more cost effective to lavish money on legislators and then suggest legislation they’d like to see enacted to increase their market share, often writing the legislation they suggest.

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Two New Videos on Merida and Mexico

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Two New Videos on Merida and Mexico


Mitch Keenan is the owner and founder of the Yucatan’s oldest real estate company, Mexico International. Before moving here fifteen years ago, Mitch worked for Continental Airlines based out of Denver. As a flight attendant, Mitch traveled throughout South America, Asia, Europe and the United States. In this video, he talks about the relative merits of living in Merida and whether or not he feels safe living here.

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The video was produced (by Eclectec SA de CV) to inspire people to attend a series of seminars that Mitch and his colleagues will be giving in cities around the United States over the next nine months. For more information about those seminars, visit the Mexico International website.

And while we’re on the subject of videos and Mexico, here’s one from the Mexico Tourism Board that just came out:

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When it Rains…

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When it Rains…


…it pours.

I’m going to draw an analogy between Morton Salt’s good ol’ tagline and the steady stream of just-when-you-think-it-couldn’t-get-any-worse-oh-look-it-just-got-worse headlines coming out of my lovely host country. I think it is an especially fitting analogy as we enter rainy season here in Mexico.

Where to begin…

In case you’ve missed the headlines for the past, um, year, Mexico’s in the throes of a somewhat major drug war. The army patrols streets in border towns. Journalists are murdered. Cartel members shoot at each other in supermarkets and shopping malls. Folks get kidnapped. I can tell you from first-hand experience that in some cities it’s impossible to go out for dinner without getting a gun pointed in your direction. It’s kind of ugly up near the frontera.

There’s also the issue of this pesky recession. Yup, la crisis has officially arrived here in Mexico. The peso is steadily sinking. Prices are steadily rising. A peso here, a peso there. That’s a lot of pesos when you’re only making 100 of them a day, like many folks do here in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. In my case, an hour of peso-salaried work here in Mexico currently converts to approximately enough dollars to buy a one-way bus fare in Chicago. Nice.

You might have also heard about this swine flu. Death tolls change hourly, depending on who you’re asking or what you’re reading, but Oaxaca has the dubious honor of being home to the first documented swine-related death. Mexico City shut down last week. And as of noon today, Huajuapan de León has followed suit. My classes have officially been cancelled through May 6. Students have already vacated campus in search of face masks and vitamin C supplements. From tomorrow, I’ll be on a vacation of sorts, a kind of vacation where you’re not supposed to leave your house or breathe or talk or hug or kiss anyone.

And, just today…more good news. A 6.0 earthquake near Mexico City. We felt it here in Oaxaca. You know, just in case things weren’t interesting enough.

If you relied on headlines alone, you’d think that the situation was pretty darn depressing down here. Pistols, pesos, pigs, and…darnit, I can’t think of an earthquake-related word that begins with “p.”

But, truth is, things ain’t so bad.

Or at least things aren’t as bad as the US media is making them out to be. Not everyone who visits Mexico gets kidnapped by a drug cartel — or the swine flu from riding the Mexico City metro. I promise.

But, in my humble opinion, the glue that’s holding this country together is the people. Mexicans, if nothing else, are survivors. They’re resilient. The past couple of hundred years of Mexican history have seen a disproportionate number of awful events: wars, foreign invasions, natural disasters, financial crashes and political scandals. Folks here are used to these things. The mentality is that if today sucks, mañana will be better.

Life goes on here in Mexico. Cartel violence, economic woes, world health emergencies and natural disasters will not affect Mexico’s core, the things that make Mexico an amazing place to live, the things that keep me here this country, even through its rough patch. Crisis will not stop people from greeting strangers in the street with a heartfelt “buenas tardes” (even if it is muffled by a sanitary mask). Crisis will not stop people from making time for friends and family (even if the government has discouraged handshakes and kisses). Crisis will not stop people from having a laugh over a beer (even if the bars are closed).

Crisis will not stop people from smiling.

This afternoon, I happened to be up near the front gate of our university as scores of blue face mask-clad students filed off campus. Some looked a bit worried, some were laughing with friends (no classes for a week and a half is a pretty sweet deal to any 19-year-old, even if a world health crisis is the reason behind it). But I caught a glimpse of one student, walking alone.

He’d drawn a big, goofy smile on his mask, just where his mouth would’ve been below.

It will get better mañana. I promise.

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Q&A with a Recent Traveler to Cancun

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Q&A with a Recent Traveler to Cancun


Yesterday I had the chance to ask some questions of a recent traveler to Cancun. She and her family were nervous before traveling to Cancun, but came here anyway and ended up having a great time. Here are my questions and her answers:

Why were you nervous about traveling to Cancun?

Stella: I was nervous about traveling to Cancun due to all the media coverage in the US and the travel alert that was in effect. Also, there were a lot of colleges warning their students not to travel to Mexico over spring break.

Why did you decide to come to Cancun and not go somewhere else?

Stella: This was our third trip to Cancun, we love the turquoise water and white sand. In addition, we have gone to other islands over Easter break and have not found the impeccable service that we receive in Cancun.

When you arrived in Cancun what were your first impressions?

Stella: When we first arrived, I felt a little nervous, but as soon as we walked outside and felt the warm sun and saw the palm trees blowing in the wind I actually began to feel at ease. Minutes thereafter we saw our service waiting for us with our name on a board and within 20 minutes we were at the front desk of our hotel.

How long were you in Cancun before you were able to relax and know that you would be safe here?

Stella: I actually felt at ease driving to Le Meridian. Our driver was so nice and kind.

What places did you visit while you were in Cancun? Did you go out and have fun?

Stella: We didn’t do any of the tours, because we have done them all before, we actually just wanted to relax. We did go out every night to a different restaurant and/or mall. We walked some of the time or took a taxi. We had no bad experiences.

Will you come back to Cancun again?

Stella: Yes, we will definitely be back.

What advice would you give other travelers who want to come to Cancun but are nervous?

Stella: I would advise other travelers to read your blog and be well aware of what is going in the country, but also to realize Cancun is some 2300 miles away from all that stuff. When traveling to another country you always need to be informed and aware. As long as you are respectful to the country and their people, I don’t see how you could have a problem. You were right, the only thing we came home with was sunburn.

Thanks again for putting my mind as ease prior to our trip.

Prior to asking the above questions of Stella she and I had an exchange of comments on my blog, I’ve shared that exchange here: Back Safe & Happy From Cancun.

Thank you to Stella for answering my questions and giving me permission to re-post our comment exchange.

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The Problem with “Non-Natural” Death Statistics

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The Problem with “Non-Natural” Death Statistics


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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Back Safe & Happy From Cancun

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Back Safe & Happy From Cancun


The following comment exchange appeared recently on my blog. It illustrates the fear many travelers to Mexico have before they arrive and shows how unfounded those fears turn out to be. I thought it would be relevant to share this exchange here.

Comment #164 from Stella – April 1, 2009

Hey Rivergirl,
Glad I found this website. We are leaving 4/8 for Cancun, Le Meridian, by husband, myself and 2 kids. I am scared to death that we will be in harms way. My daughter can’t wait to go to Sr. Frog’s and I haven’t told her yet, that we probably won’t go downtown. I need your honest opinion as to whether or not we will be safe. I have arranged for the hotel concierge to pick us up at the airport, thought that was the safest way to go and figured we just won’t leave the resort until its time to head home, but that doesn’t give us many dining options. Please give me your honest opinion on all this. Also, if you know anything about the Le Meridian that you care to share, I would appreciate it.
Thanks so much for your time and info.

Reply from RiverGirl – April 1, 2009

Stella – First off Señor Frog’s is not in downtown Cancun it’s in the Hotel Zone. Second, even if it WAS downtown it would be perfectly safe to go there.

I understand your fears Stella but they are completely unfounded! I’m serious!

I wander around in Cancun all the time, alone as a white American woman. I’ve never been at all nervous for my safety and only once or twice (in large crowds) was I nervous that some purse snatcher would try to grab my purse (though no one ever did).

Le Meridien is a lovely hotel, it’s one of the nicest here. I don’t think the beach near it is very good right now, so you will want to walk north or south to a better beach.

But do leave your hotel and go out. Cancun is perfectly safe for tourists. When you get here and see everyone wandering the Hotel Zone night and day you will relax, I’m sure.

Comment #19 from Stella – April 15, 2009

Hey RiverGirl,
Just wanted to let you know you were RIGHT!! Cancun was more perfect than we remembered. We had a blast and were completely as ease once we checked-in and got in vacation mode. There were no signs of violence at all and actually the people, employees and everyone in general were much more pleasant and accommodating than you will find in Pennsylvania.
Thanks again for this website.

Reply from RiverGirl – April 15, 2009

Stella – I’m really glad you had a great time!

After this exchange of comments I wrote to Stella asking her for permission to re-post our exchange. I also asked her some questions about her fears and her trip to Cancun, a post with her answers will appear here soon.

Thank you to Stella for permitting me to re-post her comments here.

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Biased News, Half-Truths and Fear Mongering Fuel Paranoia of All Things South of the Border

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Biased News, Half-Truths and Fear Mongering Fuel Paranoia of All Things South of the Border


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.

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Living the Dangerous Life in Mexico

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Living the Dangerous Life in Mexico


For background, I run a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the most popular posts lately have been in reference to fears of the “dangers” of traveling and living in Mexico.

I live in Puerto Vallarta permanently and have for three years. Before that I visited Vallarta many times and was a bit of of a snow bird, coming and going with the seasons. I have traveled in many parts of Mexico, as well as South East Asia, the US and Europe.

I’m not a normal tourist by any measure, and I frequent many parts of this town that most tourists would never consider visiting and, certainly, no tourist guide would ever recommend. I live in a barrio, of sorts, far from the gringo enclaves and condo developments. And I don’t blend: I’m an old gringo with red hair, blue eyes and freckles.

No Stinking BadgesThe American and Canadian media have been painting Mexico with a broad brush of danger and fear: Heads rolling into nightclubs, police being gunned down in their driveways, tourists being knifed in their condos, etc. Mexico is now being compared to Middle East war zones by US Pentagon spokesmen.

Supposedly, 6000 people have been killed in the “drug war” here last year (2008). I say “supposedly” because this figure discounts the people normally killed in those cosmopolitan areas and supposes that the cause and motives are the same in all of these deaths. It’s a lot of deaths.

  • I have had a friend here mugged at 3 am when he was walking home drunk from a night of partying. He was beaten and kicked when he didn’t let go of his camera bag.
  • I know of another person who challenged a burglar in his condo (there because the balcony door had been left open), and he was killed when the burglar picked up a kitchen knife to try to get away.
  • There is a report of a gay man who was given a “date rape” drug in a strip bar and then robbed and beaten. Details are sketchy on this instance, but you get the picture.
  • A transsexual was killed a year ago when she had an argument with a trick over payment (or so the street story goes…).
  • A young man was killed almost 2 years ago when he withdrew thousands of dollars from a bank and fought to keep it as he was being robbed.

These are all real stories and all horrible and all things that could happen anywhere. I know. I have lived in places, like Oakland, California, where life was described by everyone as a “war zone.”

The Usual BandidosTo some, this statement of perspective and universality is a deflection from the “dangers of Mexico” that are now being portrayed nightly on all major US and Canadian media outlets.

To others, this is the reality of anyone who has any life experience in any place in the world. I don’t believe that I left any major “crime” involving tourists out here in the last several years.

So why this media blitz about the “dangers” of Mexico? And, more importantly, why is any of this “sky is falling” propaganda rubbing off on Puerto Vallarta, which is definitely outside of any drug cartel battle grounds?

I don’t have a clue. The cynic in me says that it’s just a marketing ploy by the “buy at home” tourist industries of the North, but can big business really be that cold as to slander a whole nation to get a few more tourists to spend their extra $$ locally? I don’t think so, but I’m not one of those trying to get that tourist $$.

Should tourists be warned of the dangers here? Of course, but, then, they are already warned by any travel guide or travel agent in the world that they would talk to. The warnings are standard for any country:

  • Don’t display ostentatious wealth inappropriately
  • Don’t engage in illegal activity
  • Keep aware of your surroundings.

Many people on vacation try to make over the location of that vacation to fit an idealized version of their homes, often forgetting that their homes are no where near any imagined ideal. This tendency is the concept behind the walled, AI (All Inclusive) compounds being constructed in Nuevo Vallarta, it is the concept behind the tacky, white bread, Taco Bells of life.

Mexico isn’t Taco Bell.

Note: This article originally appeared here, and is reprinted with permission.

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Drug Trafficking Key Component in “Failed State” Headlines

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Drug Trafficking Key Component in “Failed State” Headlines


Every day, recently, the USA media herd echo chamber carries reports that Mexico is falling apart into an “an epidemic of drug-related violence“, as in this McClatchey piece. This ABC story, citing a “a confidential federal law enforcement assessment obtained by ABC News,” even goes so absurdly far as to ask, in its headline, “Mexico: The Next Iraq or Afghanistan?

The reports are largely nonsense, but the ABC comparison of Mexico to Iraq or Afghanistan is just utter silliness, the suggestion of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s that drug gangs have taken control of portions of Mexico notwithstanding. Enrique Krauze explains in his NYT commentary just how silly the comparison to Iraq or Afghanistan is.

“AMERICA’S distorted views can have costly consequences, especially for us in Latin America. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Mexico this week is a good time to examine the misconception that Mexico is, or is on the point of becoming, a ‘failed state.’

This notion appears to be increasingly widespread. The Joint Forces Command recently issued a study saying that Mexico — along with Pakistan — could be in danger of a rapid and sudden collapse. President Obama is considering sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border to stop the flow of drugs and violence into the United States. The opinion that Mexico is breaking down seems to be shared by much of the American news media, not to mention the Americans I meet by chance and who, at the first opportunity, ask me whether Mexico will ‘fall apart.’

It most assuredly will not. First, let’s take a quick inventory of the problems that we don’t have. Mexico is a tolerant and secular state, without the religious tensions of Pakistan or Iraq. It is an inclusive society, without the racial hatreds of the Balkans. It has no serious prospects of regional secession or disputed territories, unlike the Middle East. Guerrilla movements have never been a real threat to the state, in stark contrast to Colombia.

Most important, Mexico is a young democracy that eliminated an essentially one-party political system, controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, that lasted more than 70 years. And with all its defects, the domination of the party, known as the P.R.I., never even approached the same level of virtually absolute dictatorship as that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or even of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Further, Bloomberg.com reports that Moody’s investor’s Services has declared that “Mexico’s investment-grade credit rating is safe….”, saying in its report.

“Despite heightened anxiety about the escalation of violence and organized crime activity, Mexico does not fit the general profile of countries identified as failed states,” Moody’s said in a report released today. “The general foundations of its investment-grade rating remain solid.”

Look, Mexico is a nation of 111 million folks, the eleventh most populous nation in the world. Likewise, Mexico represents the eleventh largest economy in the world. Mexico has a literacy rate of 91% amongst those over fifteen years of age and 95% of the population enjoys electrical service. Mexico has a political system that every six years results in an orderly election for president and an orderly transition from one administration to the next. Mexico is a modern nation.

Every breathless news report of Mexico’s dire straights will tell you that there have been “7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico since January 2008″. There is no doubt that the drug gang killings of competitors and of police officials hunting them is a serious affront to both Mexican and USA domestic tranquility which must be addressed. But the murder in Mexico statistic must be taken in perspective, in terms of both its magnitude and its causes.

The aggregate murder rate in Mexico, as of 2006, was almost 11 per 100,000 population. For comparison purposes the murder rate in Chicago during the alcohol prohibition years of 1920-1933 was 10.5 per 100,000 in 1920; 14.6 per 100,000 in 1930; and by 1940, seven years after the end of prohibition, the rate dropped to 7.1 per 100,000.

What must be remembered when reading USA media reports of violence in Mexico is that it is largely confined to those working in the black market, trafficking in drugs and/or Cubans hoping to place a “dry foot” on USA territory so they may stay. Most, by far, of those 7,000 Mexican murders occurred in cities abutting, or adjacent to, the USA border; and, to a much lesser extent, in the Yucatan peninsula where the Mexican branch of the Cuban mafia is headquartered.

Black marketeers, prohibition era bootleggers, modern day Mexico drug gangs, and the Cuban mafia human/drug traffickers for instance, are not nearly so reluctant to eliminate their commercial competition with “extreme prejudice” as are their legitimate counterparts.

What also must be remembered is that the Mexican drug gangs are armed primarily with weapons obtained in the USA. The gangs run drugs North and bring cash and guns South, a fact I was pleased to see Obama acknowledge during his press conference yesterday. Secretary of State Clinton also acknowledged such in a statement upon her arrival in Mexico City today.

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the death of police officers, soldiers and civilians,” Clinton told reporters during her flight to Mexico City.

“I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility.”

The USA market demand for drugs is of immense value, valued in the tens of billions of dollars per year. Market forces can not be resisted, a demand will be supplied whether legally or otherwise, as was amply demonstrated during the days of USA alcohol prohibition. All prohibition really accomplishes is to raise the value of the prohibited product to a level so as to enable black marketeers. That is, the value of the prohibited product becomes so great that to some folks the attraction of lucrative returns out weighs the risk of the legal consequences.

So what can be done? It’s pretty simple, really. Scrap the wet foot, dry foot policy and accept Cuban immigrants upon the same conditions required of the residents of every other nation on earth. And, since, reportedly, 60% of the Mexican drug gangs’ revenue derives from smuggling marijuana to to the USA, the USA must legalize the personal production and use of marijuana. USA marijuana users with green thumbs may grow enough in the backyard to supply their personal needs and the less intrepid may buy their personal stash the same place they now buy their alcoholic libations.

USA legalization would almost immediately reduce the price of marijuana so as to put the black marketeers out of the marijuana trafficking business, as it would no longer be a profitable enterprise. The reduction in the gangs’ revenues would reduce the numbers of weapons purchased in and smuggled from the USA.

Then, adopt the Swiss model and provide for government distribution of pharmaceutical heroin and cocaine at cost to users.

If significant numbers of folks insist upon upon using heroin or cocaine, whether prohibited or not, (the Harrison Act has had little effect upon the rate of heroin use) shouldn’t we see that they are provided in a manner that ensures the users’ safety, greatly reduces the need for users to steal to support their habits, reduces disease transmission, and which doesn’t involve criminal gang distribution networks ?

The economic meltdown once again has illustrated that there are folks who will do anything in their pursuit of self enrichment, bring the world economy to its knees or murder and behead a drug or human trafficking competitor. It is time to remove the drug trafficking profit incentive. Once the drug gangs are out of business we may turn our attention to reigning in the pirates of Wall Street.

Note: This article originally appeared in Expatriate Ruminations, and is reprinted here with permission.

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Is Mexico Safe?

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Is Mexico Safe?


Years ago when I lived in New York City I received a phone call one night from my mother, who sounded very upset.

“Are you OK? Is your house on fire? Are you safe?”

I didn’t know what she was talking about. I was totally fine. It turned out mom was watching the nightly news on TV.

Yes, there were riots going on in Brooklyn. Yes, buildings were on fire. Yes, people were killed and others hurt. It was all happening miles away from where I lived. I knew nothing about it. But my mother had the impression that all of New York City was at war.

That phone call taught me two important lessons I’ve never forgotten. First, the news has the power to amplify and distort reality. Second, most people accept as fact anything they read in a newspaper or see on television.

Recent reports of drug “wars” in Mexico are not necessarily untrue, but they look at a small part of the canvas and make people think they are seeing the whole picture. As a full-time resident of Mexico since 1997 I would like to suggest to my readers that they are being misinformed.

Frank Koughan’s excellent report and data analysis previously posted on this site already provides the facts of the matter, so I’ll simply tell you what my life is like here in Mexico City in terms of safety.

I’ve been asking all my friends here if they’re afraid of the drug violence they see in the news (it’s reported here, too, not just in the U.S.). So far I’ve not had an affirmative answer. Neither I nor anyone I know wears bullet-proof clothing. I get up early three mornings a week and stroll across the park to attend a yoga class–dodging joggers and unleashed dogs is my biggest danger. I walk to work, take the subway, ride the buses and taxis, all without fear—ever. People in my local supermarket seem more troubled about whether they should put their groceries in a paper bag or a plastic bag than by any more menacing concerns. Diners at my local taco stand fret over the eternal dilemma: red salsa or green salsa? When I head out at night my biggest worry is whether I will need a jacket or not.

In other words, life goes on in Mexico City much as it does elsewhere in the world.

Know the facts. Most of the violence in Mexico is targeted toward a very specific group of people connected to the drug trade. Most of it occurs in border towns. As a tourist, your chance of being hurt or killed by drug-related violence is about as great as having a piano fall on your head.

Read newspapers with a critical eye. I recently began writing for a national newspaper here, and I can see how easy it would be for any writer to choose a word or a phrase than could alter, slant or color a reporting of ‘facts’. I’ve noted often in The New York Times the use of quotations from one person to indicate the feelings of a nation.

Violence sells. A report about decapitated bodies makes a much flashier headline than one about a trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacán. The former Mexico correspondent for a major U.S. paper is a friend of mine. I knew he loved Mexico and felt safe and happy here, but he wrote many stories about drug violence and corruption. When I asked him about it he said, “That’s what the editor back home wants.”

After eight years of truth-bending news, Americans seem to be living in a country where fear is a common tool for controlling ideas and behavior. Beware! There is something dangerous out there and it’s trying to steal your mind. It’s called the news.

So when people ask me “Is Mexico safe to visit?”, I say yes, come on down. With the current peso devaluation, it’s a real bargain now, and it’s not crowded–all those scaredy cats who believe what they see on the news are staying home.

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Apparently, We Aren’t the Only Ones Who Have Noticed…

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Apparently, We Aren’t the Only Ones Who Have Noticed…


I just read an article by Arthur Frommer, the famous travel book writer, who talks about how his daughter stood up to a popular Fox News host about the lies being spread about the dangers of visiting Mexico. You can read that article here:

http://www.theledger.com/article/20090321/NEWS/903225015/1326?Title=TV-Blamed-for-Fear-of-Mexico

But then I did as he instructed, and went to www.crooksandliars.com and searched on “Mexico”. Oh my goodness… the things that Fox News is reported to be saying about Mexico will make your toes curl.

And this morning, according to the L.A.Times, there is a report about Hilary Clinton’s recent visit to Mexico and Obama’s upcoming visit.

Things certainly are getting interesting….

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Distances Between Tourist Destinations and High-Risk Areas in Mexico

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Distances Between Tourist Destinations and High-Risk Areas in Mexico


To help put the relative danger of travel in Mexico into perspective, we have prepared this map illustrating distances between the hotspots identified by the US State Department, and major tourist destinations. Please feel free to distribute this file, or download our print-quality PDF.

map_thumb

Posted in Mexico in General, YucatanComments (4)

Logic Test

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Logic Test


Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” -Mark Twain

There is a whole lot of time and energy being expended on the internet about how dangerous it is in Mexico. I was looking at some news online, and the headline “Mexico Morgues Run Out of Room” caught my eye. I thought that it would be about the incredible red tape that you need to fill out when someone dies here, or maybe that morgues haven’t kept up with population growth. Something piqued my morbid interest. It turned out to be this story about the morgue in Cuidad Juarez.

When I went to college it was mandatory that you took a class in Critical Thinking or Logic. Is that not a requirement for a journalism major? Or is it a matter of choosing the wrong word and relying on spell check? Shouldn’t the title be “Mexican Morgue Runs Out of Room” as in, a specific morgue in Mexico, not all morgues in Mexico?

How would that logic problem go?

The morgue in Cuidad Juarez is running out of room. Cuidad Juarez is in Mexico. Therefore, all morgues in Mexico are running out of room. True or False?

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I feel perfectly safe here.

Oh, there is petty crime. I wrote about my experience with an unsuccessful pickpocket here. One time, Husband left a bag from the pharmacy on top of an ATM machine, and someone walked off with it. Another time we had a guy come running after us with an ATM card that we had left behind. Actually, the second scenario is the more likely one. Our neighbor had a taxista drive to her house, after his shift ended, to deliver her purse that she had left in his taxi. The other day I accidentally gave the pizza delivery guy a $500 peso note instead of a $50, and told him to keep the change. He shook his head and handed me back the $500 peso note! I hear about that sort of thing all the time.

When we were living down the street from the bus terminal, we had someone walking by in the wee hours steal stuff from our car. The car was in our carport, but the gate was unlocked. The car was unlocked, and the stuff was visible.

When we lived in California, my locked Honda was broken into while in our driveway, as well as our pickup truck that was on the street. They took my radio and trashed the car looking for hidden money or drugs. The police told us that they had a rash of car break-ins that night in our residential district.

While our current house was being remodeled, a pair of thieves noticed our contractor bring in our boxed ceiling fans. While he was getting more stuff, they sneaked into the house and made off with them. Fortunately, our contractor chased and caught them. These guys were on their way home, just having been released from jail in Cancun for theft! So back to jail they went.

This doesn’t compare to the 4 times I have been burglarized in the USA. When I was in college, someone broke into my apartment, stole my jewelry and my roommate’s valuables, then came back two weeks later to steal any replacements.

When I lived in Las Vegas, someone stole two of my dogs out of our backyard! The house next door was a rental. I glanced over the fence after the neighbors had sneaked out during the night, and saw a trail of my possessions in their yard! They had made a hole in the fence and into our storage shed, and made off with our stuff!

While we were on vacation someone broke down our front door, ransacked the house and stole everything that seemed valuable, twice, in the three years that we lived there. I can’t imagine that happening here.

So yeah, Mérida is not perfectly crime free, but if you read the police report (sucesos de policía) in the Diario de Yucatan, the crimes are pretty mild. Out of eighteen entries, there are two robberies (one of which was committed by a man from California!), one drug arrest, a probable arson (listed twice), and two missing people. The rest are related to either traffic accidents or family law.

What would be on the blotter in a comparably sized city NOB? I don’t worry about being assaulted, kidnapped or robbed. We lock our doors, but don’t wake up with every strange noise. I am not fearful of strangers. There isn’t a single neighborhood in this city of over a million people that I would be nervous walking in at night. I certainly don’t feel compelled to lock the car doors and roll up the windows while traveling in strange places. I have never ever feared for my safety here.

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The Face of Mexico – It’s All Smiles

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The Face of Mexico – It’s All Smiles


Mexico is once again splattered all over the news. “DON’T GO,” scream all the headlines. It’s so dangerous, people are being slaughtered. Tourists are prime targets. You’d be downright crazy to cross that border.

All that smack is coming out of every media outlet and as I sit here in my sunny LA kitchen, I just remember the smiles. The big, white, toothy smiles of every Mexican I came across in all my travels around that lovely country. In fact, I just got back from Mexico in February. 2 weeks of happy, pure bliss.

Last year, I traveled SOLO for months around the country with a solar trailer strapped to the back of my truck. I cruised down extremely dusty back roads, took precarious routes along the Sierra Madre’s, and swam along lonesome stretches of sandy beaches. Never did I fear for my life. Not once did I think I was gonna catch some trouble cause I was alone. If anything, it made me travel deeper, happier…

Oh yeah, there are those dozen times I’ve done all of Baja alone too. Up and down the Sea of Cortez, sleeping in my truck, cruising along tar black, two lane roads at midnight, and then coming upon a security checkpoint in the middle of the cold, star-filled desert. Only to skid to a stop, get out of my truck while they searched it…and laugh it up with the guards wielding machine guns. Again, HUGE smiles. Pretty smiles. Curious smiles. And, most of all, friendly smiles.

These aren’t trips that were decades ago. These are trips that happen 4-5 times a year for me. Stay away from Mexico? As if. You’d be crazy if you did.

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Bullets and Bazookas

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Bullets and Bazookas


Come to Mexico City for your vacation, and you actually won’t be beheaded upon arrival at the airport. Nor are you likely to see anyone beheaded. There won’t be any narco gangsters waiting outside your hotels to kidnap you, or to inject you with vast quantities of cocaine. You won’t be stepping over scores of dead, mutilated bodies on your way to the pyramids. Sorry if this disappoints you. I know all those news headlines would have you believe otherwise.

Basically, if you turn off Fox News on your telly as you leave your home for your trip to Mexico City, that’ll be the last you’ll see or hear of the drug war in Mexico until you get back and turn your telly back on. The reality is that outside of a few border towns, which account for the vast majority of the drug war killings, everything and everyone is continuing as normal. Because outside of those towns, life is normal. I’ll give it to you straight. No spin. No bollocks. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is lying. As are the others whose reports go beyond “misleading” or “misinforming.”

The truth. There are birds singing from the fronds of the palm trees. The Jacarandas are in bloom. Street vendors are selling fresh fruit and candies. The sun is shining, the sky is a glorious blue and the streets are bustling. Green VW Beetle taxis are shuttling people from place to place. Tour guides are showing off their city. There are lots of things happening on the streets of Mexico City. Pretty much everything but a drug war. So come pay this fabulous city a visit.

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From My Inbox: Cancun Safety Concerns

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From My Inbox: Cancun Safety Concerns


Lately I’ve been getting a lot of email from people who are concerned about the safety of traveling to the Cancun, Mexico area on vacation. I thought that it might be helpful to others if I share one of these email exchanges publicly. Here is a typical email, my response is below it:

RiverGirl,
Thank goodness I found you, my wife and I are planning to visit the Cancun area soon. But because of recent news reports about violence in Mexico our families are scared and have asked us to cancel our trip.

What can we say to them to calm their fears and convince them that we will be safe while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico?

Thanks,
Jack in Seattle

Dear Jack – The data simply doesn’t support avoiding tourist areas of Mexico. There have been exactly ZERO tourist deaths in the Cancun area due drug cartel violence.

In 2008 more than 4.5 million international tourists arrived at the Cancun Airport. The vast majority of these tourists went home with nothing worse than sunburn and a hangover. Tourists do die here, just like they do in every tourist destination, but if you look at the statistics you see that they die from drowning (usually because they swim while drunk) or from heart attacks or sometimes they die in car accidents.

If you read the US State Dept warning carefully you will see that it warns people away from the border areas, primarily Tijuana and Juarez. Those areas are 1200+ miles from Cancun. Would you avoid going to Miami, Florida because of violence in Detroit, Michigan? I wouldn’t.

It would be a shame for you to cancel your trip because of worry over violence toward tourists here. Tourists need to use common sense here; there is the normal petty crime you find in any tourist destination. But there simply isn’t violence against tourists here in Cancun.

Hope this helps,
RiverGirl

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A Safety & Security Diary: Yucatan

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A Safety & Security Diary: Yucatan


After reading through some of the excellent recent submissions here, I was thinking about the general day-to-day of the security precautions we take while living on the beach here in Yucatan. Here, then, is one made-up day, which describes our (very real) security measures, or lack thereof, the (very real) incidents we have experienced, shrunk to a (very compressed) timeline.

2:00AM: We wake up, hearing a strange noise, with barking dogs late at night. Careful surveillance and a walk out to the beach reveals nothing. Everyone in the house goes back to bed.

7:00AM: We wake up again and start the day, realizing that we have left the door from the living room to the beach open, in the dark, for five hours. Though we feel dumb, we note that nothing is stolen, and no one seems to have entered.

7:30AM: I can’t find my wallet. It’s not in the back pocket of my jeans, where it usually is.

7:34AM: I find my wallet shoved in the center console of our unlocked car, in plain view. It has been left there overnight, with three credit cards and 2,000 pesos in cash inside. Everything is intact.

9:00AM: In preparation for a trip to Merida, I find that my sneakers, which were admittedly very cool, very Northern, and very unavailable here, have turned up missing after being left outside on the sidewalk for three days. The gate at the front of our property has been broken and left open for months; we haven’t felt pressed to fix it.

10:10AM: After arriving in Merida, and leaving our car unlocked, I visit the bank to withdraw money to pay for a significant remodeling project on the house. I walk out of the bank with 75,000 pesos in my pocket. I am not nervous, as I walk the streets.

10:30AM: I return to the car, to find the police standing around my car. They have caught a thief, in the middle of breaking into our car, and by breaking in, I mean, “opening the door.” Our passports, and the comprobante for our house are untouched in the unlocked glove box. All of our other stuff is returned, and we decline when asked to press charges by the police, who treat us with professionalism and courtesy.

11:45AM: We return to our home on the beach, where we find we had forgotten to lock the guest house during our trip to Merida, leaving computers, electronics, and stereo equipment unsecured. There is not a single item out of place. We vow to pay more attention.

1:44PM: Having lost the key, I cut the lock off of one of the giant, wrought-iron protectores which cover our sliding glass doors. Ultimately, I forget to replace this lock for four days. This does not cause an issue.

2:18PM: I finally get around to adding a lock to the $2,500 worth of water purification and pressurization equipment that has been sitting in our yard for months, untouched.

Examples of our carelessness go on and on. We continue to be careless, because so far, there hasn’t been much in the way of consequences. The fact is, life here bears a lot more resemblance to growing up in Midcoast Maine, where my parents spent seven years without knowing where the key to the front door was, than to the images portrayed by the media. The US press would have you believe that Mexico is one constant, gruesome parade of grenade explosions and narco-terror, but when I look out the window, it’s not what I see. Should we be more attentive? Probably. Will something of ours get stolen, at some point? Maybe. But in the meantime, crime and fear just aren’t parts of our day-to-day lives.

Posted in YucatanComments (9)

Safety in Morelos

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Safety in Morelos


I started driving to Mexico in the 1960′s, and loved it from the start. I have almost always felt safe in Mexico, perhaps even when I should not have felt so safe, such as when I went certain places in Mexico City at night. But, I was lucky.

I moved to Morelos three years ago, and I love it. There are three of us living here together, in the country, just outside the little town of Tepoztlan, about fifteen minutes from Cuernavaca and an hour from Mexico City. I still feel safe here. We do not even hear of violence around this area, though I do think that the farther from the border you are, the safer you are.

I do think there has been an increase in crime, in some parts of Mexico that did not have such problems with violence in the past. Apparently, this is largely drug related and also involves shakedowns of local businesses for “protection” payments.

We take the usual precautions. We don’t drive at night, except in our little area, which we know quite well by now. We keep our front gate locked (most of the time), and our house locked at night. And of course, we have our nine dogs, mostly little chihuahuas, that alert us when anything moves.

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Spring Break in Mexico: Do the Math, Kids

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Spring Break in Mexico: Do the Math, Kids


As the Iraq War enters its seventh year, I’ve been trying to imagine a world in which CIA director George Tenet, faced with deciding whether to recommend sending young American men and women into a dangerous foreign country, receives information from the State Dept. and, instead of disregarding it, accepts it as credible and recommends standing down from the mission.

As reported by the New York Times this week, this actually did happen.Unfortunately, it happened six years too late; the country was Mexico; the mission, spring break; and the young people at risk were Tenet’s college age son and his friends.And this time, it was State that was being unnecessarily alarmist.

Last month, the State Dept. issued a travel advisory for Mexico that was, by bureaucratic memo standards, rather breathless:

“Mexican drug cartels are engaged in an increasingly violent conflict – both among themselves and with Mexican security services – for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border…Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades.

Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez.During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area…The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.”

The phrase “large fire fights” tends to have a cooling effect on the tourism trade, and sure enough, colleges across the US have started warning students against spending spring break in a “war zone.”

I have lived in Querétaro, Mexico, for two-and-a-half years. My city is about 450 miles from the nearest beach, and farther still from the nearest wet t-shirt contest, and so I don’t have any particular interest in persuading a swarm of horny teenagers to come survive for a week on tequila shooters. But America’s young people are being fed a lot of misinformation about their neighbor to the south, so I’m here to set the record straight. For the children.

There is indeed a great deal of senseless, drug-fueled violence happening in Mexico right now: over 5,000 people were killed last year, and this year the body count hit 1,000 in just 51 days. But the vast, vast majority of the dead were either involved in the drug trade themselves, or were part of the forces (Army/ police/ judges/ officials) who are fighting them. If you’re planning to spend spring break either working for a drug cartel or joining the Mexican Army, then by all means you should think twice about coming here.

Consumers of American media could easily get the impression that Mexico is a blood-soaked killing field, when in fact the bulk of the drug violence is happening near the border. (In fact, one way of putting this would be that Mexico is safe as long as you stay far, far away from the US.) If your spring break destination of choice is Juarez, Tijuana or Nuevo Laredo, I would humbly suggest that you’re both a degenerate and insane. You’ve got plenty of underage prostitutes right at home in America, and despite what you may have read there’s no such thing as a “donkey show” here. Tenet is right. Cancel your vacation or I’m giving your name to Interpol.

It’s hard to blame universities for issuing these dire warnings, since they have a responsibility to their students, and the fact of the matter is, Americans do get killed here. But in debating whether or not Mexico is dangerous, they’re asking themselves the wrong question. The issue is, is Mexico dangerous compared to the United States? We’ve been hearing for years how American kids are falling behind in math and statistics, so I’ll try to keep the following simple as I can.

According to the State Dept., 669 Americans died “non-natural deaths” in Mexico in the three years between Jan ’05 and Dec ’07, which accounts for 30% of “non-natural” American deaths around the world. Sounds scary, but then Mexico also accounts for 30% of the foreign trips taken by Americans, so what do you expect? Furthermore, we’re talking about 45 million American visits to Mexico, so while 669 deaths are a tragedy, they are not exactly a killing field. Based on these numbers, the survival rate for Americans in Mexico would appear to be 99.9986%

Breaking that State Dept’s numbers down a little further, though, we see that 58 percent (389) of these “non-natural deaths” were from accidents – car, plane, boat or “other.” Eighty-five Americans drowned here in this national full of beach resorts. Fifteen died of drug overdoses and 61 Americans – nine percent of the total – committed suicide! Admittedly, life here can be frustrating sometimes, but any tourist who kills himself here should, in all fairness, not be counted against Mexico total.

The number of Americans who decided Mexico would be a great place to kill themselves is nearly half the number of those who had that decision made for them. According to the State Dept, a grand total of 126 Americans were murdered in Mexico during those three years – just slightly less than the 45,000 killed north of the border during the same period. So while your chances of not dying here may be 99.9986%, your chances of not being murdered here are 99.9997%. Anyone who considers those to be dangerous odds would be advised not to spend spring break in Las Vegas, either.

Recently, the Houston Chronicle took a look at the numbers (covering four years, instead of State’s three) and came to a similar conclusion: that fewer than one-thousandth of one percent of American visitors to Mexico come back to Uncle Sam in a pine box. Actually, the way the Chronicle phrased it was, “Caught in the Chaos: More than 200 U.S. Citizens Killed in Mexico Since ’04”.

So, y’know, one a week, which makes the country a lot safer than most US cities.But then the Chronicle goes on to note:

“The Chronicle analysis showed some American homicide victims were involved in organized crime. The dead include at least two dozen victims labeled hitmen, drug dealers, human smugglers or gang members, based on published investigators’ accusations. Others were drug users or wanted for crimes in the United States…in at least 70 other cases, U.S. citizens appear to have been killed while in Mexico for innocent reasons: visiting family, taking a vacation, or simply living or working there.”

In other words, of the “200 U.S Citizens Slain,” 130 of them simply didn’t draw their own weapons fast enough. So we’re really talking about seventy murders in four years, during which time Americans made 60 million visits to Mexico, which has a population of about 120 million. For the record, that’s ten percent fewer murders than took place in Houston, population 2 million, in the first three months of 2008:

“HPD officials say that the City of Houston has recorded the fewest numbers of murders for the first quarter of this year since 2005.

“The unofficial numbers show 78 murders were recorded through the first three months of this year.

“There were 88 murders for the same period in 2007. That’s an 11.3 percent decrease.”

In case it’s not clear, Houston officials were proud of this. And they should have been, because in 2007, Houston had the second-highest urban homicide rate in the country:

“In Houston, the number of murders increased to 379 last year from 334 in 2005, a jump officials blamed in part on hurricane evacuees.

“The homicide rate has been much higher in years past, especially the 1980s,’ HPD Capt. Dwayne Ready told the Chronicle in October.

“‘Even if the number … for 2006 hits 400 it’s not a bleak picture for Houston.’”

If 400 people get gunned down in Houston in one year, the Houston Police Dept. doesn’t think it’s a “bleak picture.” But seventy innocent Americans get killed in Mexico over the course of four years, and the former director of Central Intelligence is warning people to steer clear? Where was this sense of caution six years ago?

Mexico is a real country, kids, not some isolated beach resort. There’s crime here. People die here – mostly by accident, but some by murder. But the same is true of the United States. The state of Querétaro, where I live, is very small – a little over a million people – and at any given time there are about 50,000 Queretanos working in the United States. In 2007, forty-one of them were shipped home for burial by the Mexican embassy. Strangely, no one here ever tries to talk me out of returning home for a visit.

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Playa del Carmen is Safe

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Playa del Carmen is Safe


Ok, people, enough’s enough. Too many people are finding Heather in Paradise by researching “crime in Playa del Carmen,” and the US media has been going on a frenzy trying to sensationalize crime in Mexico in an effort to deter Americans from traveling here.

Here is the most recent travel advisory from the US State department. Read it for yourself and then come back.

Ok, they’re warning you that there has been drug cartel violence as well as some robberies, etc. in some of the border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. They recommend restricting travel to Durango.

Have any of you seen a map of Mexico? Here you go:

mexico_map_500

Quintana Roo, which is Playa del Carmen’s state, is the grey/purplish state that is on the far right, curled up little Yucatan peninsula. In other words, it’s really, really far away from the border.

Click here to read more.

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Musings from Merida…

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Musings from Merida…


Those of us who have lived here for awhile are used to the way Mexico is treated in the media in the United States. Articles are either about wonderful places to travel or about how dangerous it is here. A few months ago, there was a noticeable uptick in the number of negative articles about Mexico. Murder, violence, danger… the drums were beating louder. Then there was an article about the two most potentially dangerous countries in the world: Pakistan and… Mexico! Then the U.S. State Department put out a travel warning, and it seemed everyone was writing about how dangerous it was going to be for college students on Spring Break to go to Mexico.

We pondered all this last night as we walked the dogs through the streets of downtown Merida. Not just any streets, but a neighborhood deep in a colonia south of the Plaza Grande, a place we had once been warned to stay away from because it was dangerous. Now we live here, in San Sebastian, one of the old neighborhoods in Merida’s centro historico. Once upon a time, this was a place of intense poverty and desperation. It still isn’t a neighborhood of manicured lawns and swimming pools, but desperation? danger? Not hardly.

The two dogs and two humans walked slowly through the streets, lit by streetlights and moonlight and the light spilling from the many open doors. In Merida, often the coolest place in your house is on the front step, where the breeze blows by, and it is traditional for people to take their chairs outside and set up light housekeeping in front of their house on the sidewalk. Each block had three or four families gathered around their front door last night, talking, laughing, listening to music. We know each other by sight, and they waved or greeted us as we walked by. “Buenas noches!” “Buenas noches!” The children squeal because the dogs are big and full of energy. At one door, a man is selling unfinished pine furniture… We stop and ask him about it because we’ve never seen him before. How much is the table? Does he make things to order? His friends ask us if the dogs bite, and when we answer “no, they’ve already eaten tonite”, they laugh with us, and we continue on to the park.

At the park by the San Sebastian Church, there are probably fifty young men playing a few games of basketball on the lit courts. The unlit baseball field behind them is fairly empty and we let the dogs run offleash for awhile in the dark, looking at the stars and listening to the distant sound of a TV coming from the cocina economica on the other side of the wall. We walk by later and notice that it’s a quiet night there tonite… only a few tables full of patrons watching television, visiting and eating something that smells delicious.

On the way home, some of the streetlights are not lit and the street is dark except for the passing lights of cars or busses. We wonder how someone reading all those articles would feel right now. Would they be afraid? Because we are not afraid, and we realize we are never afraid walking the streets of Merida. We are not worried that we are going to be shot, because Mexico doesn’t allow ordinary citizens to own guns. There are policemen everywhere in Merida, and it has always been that way. Merida is known as one of the safest places in Mexico and we have seen, heard or read nothing to change that. We feel safe here. We ARE safe here.

When we get home, as we’re lying on the roof looking up at the stars and moonlit clouds, we talk again about our safety. We have walls and locks on the front door and we take the normal precautions. But within our home, we don’t lock every door. We live an indoor/outdoor life and we have been doing that for seven years, with no breakins, no burglaries. One night, we didn’t close the front door well, and the wind blew it open. We slept through that and came downstairs in the morning to a wide open front door. But nothing was taken, nothing had happened. Everything was just the way we had left it the night before. Every so often, we are awake in the middle of the night. We open the front door for the breeze and let the cat walk outside. Before long, a policeman drives by. Everything okay? Thank you officer, everything is fine. We are always struck by how polite and respectful they are.

We can count on one hand the violence that we have heard about in our community in seven years. Those beheadings in ChiChi Suarez, a few miles from here, and another one in Garcia Gineres… that’s it. And those weren’t normal citizens; they were people caught up in the drug war, working for the narcotrafficantes. No one who was innocent was hurt. Not like the spectacular killings we read about in the United States, where an ex-boyfriend dresses up like Santa Claus and blows away the whole family.

So now we are wondering, who is this news serving? Who has suddenly decided that it is time to paint Mexico as the new bad guy? Whose interests are served by the prospect of sending troops to the border, and increasing military support to Mexico? Now that the economy is melting down in the United States, and we have plans for pulling out of Iraq, who might be worried about their profits or their influence?

As the night got later, and the moon rose, the city quieted down and went to sleep. The barking dogs stopped their nightly communication and the roosters stopped mistaking the moon for dawn, and the busses went to sleep… and so did we. Safe in Merida, Mexico. We’re worried about the future, about our safety, our finances. There are a lot of things to worry about these days. But one thing we aren’t worried about is the danger of living in Mexico.

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I’m Fine, Really!

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I’m Fine, Really!


I got a disturbing call from a client in Texas the other day. I guess I should say calls. The phone started to ring fairly early, and just kept cycling between phones: home phone, cell phone, Vonage phone, repeat. We don’t keep any phones in the bedroom, but all the windows were open, so I could hear all the ringing coming from Chuck’s office directly above the bedroom. When I realized it wasn’t going to stop – ever – I got up to find out who needed to talk to us so desperately.

By the time I got upstairs, I was awake enough to start to be worried. Did something terrible happen to a loved one? The caller wasn’t leaving messages on any of the phones, so I sat down to wait for the phone to ring again. I didn’t have to wait long.

I picked up the phone and was instantly greeted with, “Are you okay?” It took me a few moments to recognize the voice.

“Yes, Mark. I’m fine. What’s up?”

“When you didn’t answer the phone, I was sure something had happened to you.”

Mark and I met when he hired me to develop and manage his web site and became friends. Well, maybe not friends exactly. We have never hung out or called just to chat about non-business related matters, but we deal with each other on an extremely informal level. Some of the things I say to him during a teleconference make his employees cringe, being a group of dedicated yes men. They are quite sure I am going to be fired at any moment.

With no small amount of acid, I said, “I was asleep Mark. There is a time difference, remember? What’s the emergency this time?”

It turns out he was calling on a minor business matter, but got terribly worried when I didn’t answer the phone. Mark has been watching the American news media, you see. And I live in Mexico. He was sure I had been kidnapped, or caught in a narco shootout, or come to some other equally heinous end.

Mark is a very aware type of guy and is constantly plugged into the news: on the computer, on the radio, on the television. Lately, all he has heard are stories about how dangerous it is in Mexico. The U.S. State department sent out a very strong warning about traveling to Mexico. No one has mentioned that the warning has remained largely unchanged for the past 10 years. It just featured a few enhancements this year.

My annoyance at being woken up turned into annoyance at ignorance. But I quickly squashed it. What I was hearing was the product of genuine caring, and I appreciated that. But I am still annoyed at the media that is sensationalizing problems in Mexico.

Here is the ironic part: Violence here, where I live, is down.

I think the news outlets in the U.S are very aware that the people are stressed out and really tired of hearing about the economy, joblessness, and foreclosures. What do most people want to hear about at a time like this? Someone else who is far worse off. Enter the Mexicans.

I’m not saying that the murders and kidnappings don’t happen. They do. In certain parts of Mexico. The drug violence in the border towns is astonishing. But so was the violence in Dallas three years ago. So is the violence in Detroit, with 47.8 murders per 100,000 people. Gee whiz. I just wish the news would put things in perspective when they report it.

Mark’s daughter and her sorority sisters had booked a trip to Puerta Vallarta for Spring Break. But the news has made them scared to come. They recently saw the movie Taken, and that sealed it. The girls are going to Florida.

To his credit, Mark did not forbid his daughter to come to Mexico. He interviewed body guards to send with her, but he never even implied she shouldn’t come. She made the decision on her own.

Even the young, who usually believe they are immortal, are scared to come here. I think the first reaction of most of the expats who live here is, “good riddance. The last thing we need is more drunken gringos making fools of themselves and making us look bad.” But the reality is, we need the dollars they bring with them. Part of the Mazatlan economy depends on the money tourists bring, and when they don’t come, businesses fail, people lose jobs, and children go hungry.

I think the State Department warning is having the exact effect intended: it is keeping American tourist dollars in the U.S., something that could never be accomplished by any “See America” PR campaign, no matter how good. I think encouraging people to keep their money in the U.S. is a very smart thing for the U.S. economy, but I really don’t think using scare tactics is a responsible way to do that.

I told Mark how very safe I am here. I told him that our little city of 450,000 people was just descended upon by 800,000 partiers for Carnaval and the police handled everything very well. I told him that his one U.S. Dollar buys 15 Mexican Pesos, making a trip here a very good value. I told him his daughter was a lot less likely to make an appearance in “Girls Gone Wild” if she came here. She is still going to Florida.

Note: This article originally appeared here.

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Safety in Mazatlan

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Safety in Mazatlan


There’s been a lot of talk about safety among the expat community in Mexico lately. It seems like the press and the US government are going out of their way to discourage people from vacationing in Mexico. Those of us who live here – who love it here, wonder why.

I’m not going to try to figure out what their agenda might be. Some people speculate that it has to do with keeping American vacation dollars at home to help the economy. Maybe it’s just more of the nanny style of government. I really don’t know. But I do know it is taking a toll on Mazatlan and other communities that rely on tourism for a fair bit of their economy. I’ll talk about that in a minute. For now, let’s go back to the topic of safety.

We all want to be safe. What is that, exactly, though? Does that mean that there is a zero percent chance of something unexpected happening? I doubt that anyone expects that! I mean the world is full of random events – you come around a corner a little too fast and a truck is stopped in your lane…you hit it…someone is hurt…and everyone involved feels shaken and unsafe. But that doesn’t mean you never drive again, does it? And random events don’t just happen in Mexico, you know!

I have been getting numerous letters every week from people who aren’t sure if they should come on their long-planned vacations to Mazatlan. It’s good that they are looking for more information and need to decide for themselves whether they’ll feel safe or not. I tell people that write me that I feel safe, and that I love it here, and if they want a fuller explanation as to why they should read my blog.

We all know there is a war in Mexico between drug cartels and each other and drug cartels and the government. High ranking police officials have been killed. There have been graphic pictures in the media of bodies lined up where they were executed. This is horrifying, no doubt. But aside from the slim chance that someone would be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it feels far removed from everyday life.

But one thing that isn’t far removed is the effect that the loss of tourist dollars especially hurts the poor here in Mexico. Many people here are already living a very marginal existence, and losing a job or having hours reduced is an impossible situation. And here in Mazatlan we had already been feeling the effect of the financial crisis reducing the velocity of construction and hence construction related jobs.

I love it here. I love traveling all over Mexico. I take common sense precautions and keep my eyes open. But…you know, I do that where ever I am, and I imagine you do, too. Mexico is a delightful country filled with warm hearted, generous people who would like nothing better than to share with you the Mexico they know and love. I hope you choose to see for yourself.

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Tourists Safe in Cancun

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Tourists Safe in Cancun


If you are a regular in the Mexican blogosphere, you know that Rivergirl wrote of this topic today and Gabatcha shared her thoughts on this matter yesterday. We were all set off by a recent article found on Associated Content written by Julia Bodeeb that is inaccurate and obviously written without any real knowledge of what is happening in Mexico. The article was posted on a Cancun information forum and we soon discovered that attempting to comment on her piece was futile. Several of us have posted comments that dispute her statement that tourists should avoid Cancun, we’ve asked her for evidence that Cancun is unsafe for tourists and she is consistently (and rapidly) deleting the comments that disagree with her blatant lies and misinformation. One poster contacted the writer directly to challenge her about deleting comments and she replied with a delightfully courteous “You blow”. You would think that a professional “journalist” would be able to engage in debate and support her arguments, but apparently she has nothing to back up her claims that tourists are in danger in Cancun. Why? Because they are not.

Click here to continue reading this article on my blog!

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Resort Towns Safe in Mexico

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Resort Towns Safe in Mexico


With the apparent hysteria in the media about the dangers of Mexico and the anxious emails I’m receiving about upcoming trips, I thought I would touch on this subject one more time (see previous post here). In Cancun and Quintana Roo, at this moment in time, all is peaceful, all is calm and tourists are safe. According to today’s local paper “El Periodico”, the US State Department released a letter stating that their warning was intended to urge people to exercise caution in the border areas of the country, not to prohibit travel or imply that resort areas are unsafe. There have been no tourists killed in Cancun as a result of the war on drugs. Do people die here? Why, yes they do, car accidents, heart attacks, drownings, suicides, of course people die here, but random murders just don’t happen. The entire city of Cancun had only 65 murders last year, none of the victims were tourists. For a city of about 700 000 residents with millions of tourists visiting each year, that is not a scary statistic. Does crime against tourists happen? Yes, this is not Disneyland (and I am sure there are pick pockets there too), robberies occur, credit card fraud, rape (usually of the “date rape” variety, not random assaults on the street), all things that happen in any major city. Use your common sense and don’t put yourself or your things in dangerous situations.

Click here to read the rest of this post on my blog!

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