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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.

Posted in YucatanComments (18)

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.

Posted in JaliscoComments (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)

United States Leads Mexico in Crime

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United States Leads Mexico in Crime


From NationMaster.com (Thanks LifeStyle Refugee!):

The United States leads most other countries in terms of crime per capita. On the world stage, the USA ranks #8, with 80 crimes reported per 1,000 people. In comparison, Mexico ranks #39, with 12 crimes per 1,000 people. This means that it is probably safer to vacation in Playa del Carmen than it is, say, Fort Lauderdale.

Click here to view the full chart, comparing relative crime per capita in nations around the world.

Source: Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, via NationMaster

Posted in Mexico in GeneralComments (0)

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