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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.

Posted in VeracruzComments (0)

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.

Posted in Quintana RooComments (3)

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.

Posted in Personal Experiences, Quintana RooComments (6)

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.

Posted in GuanajuatoComments (3)

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.

Posted in Distrito Federal, FeaturedComments (11)

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….

Posted in YucatanComments (6)

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)

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)

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