Monday January 22 2018

Posted by Tomas on December 21, 2017
  • Mexico is the US's #1 foreign travel destination and it is hard to find a people more welcoming than those of the Baja peninsula
    Mexico is the US's #1 foreign travel destination and it is hard to find a people more welcoming than those of the Baja peninsula
  • The Mexico Travel Warning is no reason to miss out on the wonders of a Baja vacation
    The Mexico Travel Warning is no reason to miss out on the wonders of a Baja vacation
  • Snorkeling and sight-seeing charters are a great way to explore the wonders of the Sea
    Snorkeling and sight-seeing charters are a great way to explore the wonders of the Sea
  • The famous Land's End arch in Cabo San Lucas
    The famous Land's End arch in Cabo San Lucas

Updated December 21, 2017, The latest Travel Warning for Mexico was updated by the US Department of State on August 22, 2017. In addition to the State Department warnings, the Center for Disease control has also released a Travel advisory for Mexico, regarding the Zika Virus for pregnant women. I'll take a look at the reality of that too. (Click here to read the most recent statistics on the Zika Virus in Mexico updated every Tuesday)

Excerpts from the Official US State Department Warning for Mexico - August 22, 2017

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas.  U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery in various Mexican states. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mexico issued December 8, 2016.

For information on security conditions in specific regions of Mexico, see our state-by-state assessments below. U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas to which the Department recommends “defer non-essential travel” in this Travel Warning. As a result of security precautions that U.S. government personnel must take while traveling to parts of Mexico, our response time to emergencies involving U.S. citizens may be hampered or delayed. 

Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place on streets and in public places during broad daylight. The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations and has engaged in an extensive effort to counter criminal organizations that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.

U.S. government personnel are prohibited from patronizing adult clubs and gambling establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima, and Nayarit. 

Kidnappings in Mexico take the following forms:

  • Traditional:  victim is physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release.
  • Express:  victim is abducted for a short time and commonly forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
  • Virtual:  an extortion-by-deception scheme where a victim is contacted by phone and coerced by threats of violence to provide phone numbers of family and friends, and then isolated until the ransom is paid.  Recently, hotel guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.

U.S. citizens have been murdered in carjackings and highway robberies, most frequently at night and on isolated roads. Carjackers use a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, but drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States are also targeted. U.S. government personnel are not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. citizens should use toll roads (cuotas) whenever possible. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.

The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups.  U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel. In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them. You should cooperate at all checkpoints. 

The year 2016 was a banner year for tourism in Baja California Sur and all of Mexico. Mexico remains one of the top 10 worldwide tourist destinations. All major airports on the Baja peninsula reported increased international travel. Cabo San Lucas remains the #1 tourist destination on the west coast of Mexico and La Paz and Cabo San Lucas were the only Mexican ports to have an increase in cruise ship passenger traffic. 

More than 11 times more people will visit Mexico this year than visit England. Baja California Sur has 10 of the best beaches in Mexico on the Pacific side and Sea of Cortez side. You will find all of these beaches not only amazing places but safe as well.

Putting the Warning in Perspective

What is living on the edge dangerous to one person is the daily mundane to another, so I'll just look at the statistics and put them in perspective with daily life

While there are parts of Mexico I will not travel to at the current time, none of those ugly places are where I live in Baja California Sur. There are not highway roaming bandits looking to feed wayward tourists to their Doberman, I have yet to see a pirate in the Sea of Cortez, nor is Mexico on the verge of revolution. There is perhaps no country in the world that welcomes North Americans with such open arms. 

Also see:The Drug War Raging in Baja California Sur

Latest News:

The year 2016 saw a dramatic drop in the number of US citizens murdered in Mexico nationwide, despite the growing number of Americans living and vacationing here. According to the US Department of State, 265 Americans met unnatural ends in Mexico in 2016, but only 75 of them were homicides. (the balance included drownings, suicide, auto accidents and those other than natural death) That is a 24% drop over 2015. 

The most dangerous state of Mexico for Americans was Chihuahua, with 28 American homicides. The runner-up was our own Baja California with 26 Americans murdered. Twelve Americans were murdered in Baja California Sur, in third place. Now in consideration of these statistics, it is important to remember that Baja California has the largest number of Americans living there full time, followed by Baja California Sur. The two states are also the two most visited states in all of Mexico. Although the numbers varied by source and could not be specifically defined it would appear that both states have an American homicide rate of about 1.2 homicides per 100,000. To put that in perspective you have a 4 times better chance of being murdered in the US, almost a 2 times better chance of it being a family member and about an equal chance of if being in your home by a gun you purchased. (statistically speaking of course) 

Here in Baja California Sur (updated December 21, 2017)

I have been authering and regularly updating this article since 2014 and I wish I could tell you that the drug war that erupted in August of 2014 in Baja California Sur has abated, but it has not, in fact it has gotten far worse. I can still tell you that Travelers are not the target of the cartel assasins, but that is just about as reassuring as I can get. As of early December 2017 the state of Baja California Sur has the highest homicides per capita of any state in Mexico and is up there with El Salvador in the over 100 per 100,000 category. That homicide rate per capita is more than 25 time that of the US. Burgleries are also up 300% and car theft has also more than doubled. 

For many months we were reading about about one body drop per day, almost always someone with  previous drug related arrests. But since July 2017 the rate of homicides has reached an average of two per day. We have had weeks as high as 31 homicides and December 20th provided 11 in a 24hr period. 

The vast majority of the earlier cartel violence were virtually invisible to tourists and most residents. Body drops of abducted and tortured persons with police records of drug related crimes are the most common. Since September 2017 the war has gone public again and there have been shootings in public places including a Coppal Store, a restort hotel and popular beach in San Jose del Cabo, The main tourist street in Cabo San Lucas and in Domino's Pizza and Sears in La Paz. Although no bystanders have been injured, much of that is due to luck. In the La Paz incident more than 20 shots were fired and only two hit the intended victim. 

In the first week of December a 22 year old single mom known to the author was abducted from her place of work, tortured and dumped in a arroyo just blocks from her home. She had no record of drug involvement. On the 20th of December the president of the Human Rights govenment organization as assassinated along with his son a the intersection of the most frequented shopping center in La Paz at 6PM in the evening. Three police officers were killed by automatic weapons fire in their car, in sight of tourists on the La Paz malecon. December 6th a man was executed by multiple gunshots in the cineplex in La Paz. 

Since the payment of year end bonuses a significant number of municipal and state police have tendered their resignation and recruitment to replace officers dismissed for not meeting the new Federal compentency and drug testing requirements has fail to produce enough new trainees. Law enforcement in the two largest cities of the state is now under military command via a federal law just passed similar to the Patriot Act, a strong arm law to attempt to regain control and the military is being used to supluiment the understaffed police.

Some of the visible signs of the drug war in Baja California Sur are the presence of more than 250 temporary Federal Police, Mexican military patrols on the streets and an increased number of check points. The checkpoints seem to be more of a visible political move, as an officer stands in the road, looking drivers in the eye and waving them through.

To sum up the reality of the situation: A resident a recent post by a small business owner in Cabo San Lucas stated that "...With the increased police presence, I have never felt safer in my adopted home town...." This is absolutely head in the sand thinking. The Cartels

As the criminal element branches out into new "markets", kidnapping has become a money maker. The good news here is most of them in Baja Sur tend to be 'virtual kidnappings' and I myself have been a potential "victim", The virtual kidnappers usually steal the cell phone of a young person and call the most likely numbers from the stolen phone to demand a ransom. In my case, my phone number was selected at random and I received a call from a young, panicked female voice tearfully saying in bad English, "Daddy they have taken me and want money to let me go!" Unfortunately for these virtual kidnappers I don't have a daughter – which I know of. I hung up and reported the call to C4 (911). It is a good idea to establish a family 'code word' that could be used to identify a REAL abduction, but your chances of needing that code word remains remote.

The damage from Tropical Storm Lidia hit Cabo San Lucas the worst. There are still signs of the storm in the tourist areas, but most of the devastation was relegated to residential areas north of the city and in the poorest communities of the city where help is still needed. 

The common tropical affliction of Dengue as returned in the late summer months, as usual with the largest number of cases being reported in Cabo San Lucas following the flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Lidia. This is almost a usual occurrence in Baja Sur following the summer rains, but this year's number of cases is far short of epidemic.

The Zika virus has also turned up in just a handful of cases on the Baja peninsula. The single digit number of cases would tend to indicate that the infection occurred in travel rather than in local contraction, but the Mexican Secretary of Health statistics do not differentiate the means of contraction. This is the same breed of mosquito that carries dengue and malaria, BTW.

To wrap it all up, as a tourist one should pay more attention to events unfolding around them. Have a family plan and meeting place should you become separated and don't venture outside the usual tourist areas just for fun. So far, the cartels are not hunting tourists or North Americans.

For Baja California the current travel warning reads:

"Baja California (includes Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Tecate, and Mexicali): Exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. Criminal activity and violence, including homicide, remain an issue throughout the state. According to the Baja California State Secretariat for Public Security, the state of Baja California experienced an increase in homicide rates compared to the same period in 2016. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents injuring innocent bystanders have occurred during daylight hours. Due to poor cellular service and general road conditions, U.S. government personnel are only allowed to travel on “La Rumorosa” between Mexicali-Tijuana on the toll road during daylight hours. "

The travel warning for Baja California Sur reads as follows:

"Baja California Sur (includes Los Cabos and La Paz): Criminal activity and violence, including homicide, remain an issue throughout the state. Exercise caution as Baja California Sur continues to experience a high rate of homicides. According to Government of Mexico statistics, the state of Baja California Sur experienced an increase in homicide rates compared to the same period in 2016. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours. "

 As a La Paz resident of 17 years, this really has not affected my daily life or that of other of residents or visitors. I do find it interesting that when the violence affected the capital city of La Paz, the city was specifically mention in the warning of December 2016. Now that the majority of the visible violence has shifted to Cabo San Lucas and even more so to San Jose del Cabo, that the specific cities are no longer mentioned.

Political Fallout

Despite the poor treatment by the US over the last 160 years, the Mexican people remain generally open and friendly to North American visitors. Opening trade with the US has provided economic opportunity for Mexico that the current administration threatens to renege on. Trump administration insults, separatism, walls, and threats of trade changes have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the vast majority of Mexicans for the new US president. 

The US overproduction of oil has left many country's economies in peril, including Mexico's. Since the threats by candidate Trump began to weigh heavily on the Mexican peso in September the value of the currency dropped 18% against the US dollar and fuel prices have risen more than 18.  This is in whole and in part respectively, blamed on Trump. Now that the impotence of campaign threats has set in with money traders, the peso has recovered about 3% since Trumps inauguration.  

Should trade deals be negated, mass deportation begins and a wall actually is constructed look for the American welcome in Mexico to diminish. It would usually be unwise to express support for these policies and the new president too loudly while in Mexico. A Trump T-Shirt would be an invitation to personal violence. 

"Bully up America", as Teddy Roosevelt would say.

When on vacation anywhere you should take extra steps to avoid being the victim of petty crime. Americans are notoriously unaware of their surroundings when traveling. (rate high as both unaware, worst dressed and only exceeded by the French as the rudest in a  recent traveler's survey) The more adventurous you get, off the beaten path or exploring sketchy neighborhoods the more you put yourself at risk. There are three kinds of people, those that like to scare, those that like to be scared and those that want to make the decision on their own. Be informed with real information when making your own risk assessment.

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