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Fear of travel in Mexico because of drug wars is misplaced
Luisa Blanco -
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April 12, 2012
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After cruise passengers were robbed in Puerto Vallarta in February, the news media's emphasis on Mexico's insecurity scared away many would-be tourists. The situation was so disconcerting that President Felipe Calderon took time at a recent White House appearance to emphasize the safety of his country.

The incident in Puerto Vallarta is concerning, to be sure. Violent crime in a popular tourist destination is always chilling. But hindsight has also provided perspective: Mexican authorities have clarified that these tourists were robbed by a single armed man, not a group of men, and that this incident was an isolated case in the area.

Despite the bad optics of this incident, most tourist areas are not affected by organized crime and have been relatively safe. The Mexican government puts a special emphasis on keeping its most tourist-heavy cities secure. It's just inaccurate to believe that traveling to Mexico means traveling dangerously.

In fact, crime rates in tourist areas are not likely to be related to the type of crime that draws the most attention, which is drug trafficking activity focused around several northern cities. Crime rates in areas frequented by tourists should continue to be similar to the crime rates observed in Latin America's other developing countries. In fact, the latest travel notice issued by the U.S. Department of State provides no special advisory or caution for Mexico's tourist-heavy areas. Travelers are advised to take the same care they would in any other similar city in Latin America.

The State Department does warn travelers about the northern areas of Mexico, as crime in Mexico has increased significantly in the past few years with President Calderon's campaign to deter drug trafficking activity.

But this uptick is largely restricted to the geographic regions related to drug trafficking. According to the Secretaria de Gobernacion, 80 percent of trafficking-related crime took place in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas between 2007 and 2010. What's more, high crime rates are present only in specific municipal areas, the key strategic cities for organized crime.

Unfortunately, some bystanders have been caught in the crossfire of the cartels' turf wars or their encounters with the authorities. But much of the increase in the homicide rate is attributable to deaths taking place within cartels and gangs themselves. Avoiding the entire country of Mexico because of this targeted local violence makes no more sense than shunning the United States because of gang violence in East Los Angeles.

More importantly, focusing on whether Mexico as a whole is a good place to travel for Americans is the wrong way to approach Mexico's problems today. After all, the United States represents the largest market for drugs, and Americans truly concerned about improving Mexico's reputation as a tourist destination should recognize what some are too reluctant to admit: Criminal activity in Mexico is as much a consequence of American demand as it is a product of Mexican supply.

Discussions should center on whether the United States is putting in place adequate policies to help its neighbor deter organized crime related to drug trafficking -- and that includes consideration of policies such as the legalization or decriminalization of drugs. Such an approach to drugs is drawing increasing support among several Latin American countries, despite knee-jerk opposition on this side of the border.

+ Wexico

The real scandal in Mexico is not the danger it presents to tourists, but that the drug trade continues to bring astronomical profits to drug cartels despite (and even because of) our war on drugs. We should spend less time fretting about where we travel and more time critiquing the policies that got us here.

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