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Travel Warning for Mexico Seen as an Overstatement

Author: Ana Ceballos
Created: 31 August, 2017
Updated: 13 September, 2023
4 min read

San Diego and Mexico border. Photo Diana Rodríguez Mendioleá

For about 15 years, it’s been common practice for the U.S. government to urge citizens to “exercise caution” when traveling to certain parts of Mexico. In late August, as targeted shootings between rival criminal groups soared, U.S. officials flared the latest warning.

The advisory has taken aim at booming travel destinations like the resort cities of Cancun and Los Cabos, which get millions of tourists every year. Border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez are also red-tagged on the Aug. 22 travel warning.

“U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery in various Mexican states,” State Department officials warn in a statement.

Marcela Celorio, Mexico’s Consul General in San Diego, though, says the Tourism Ministry “devotes significant resources” to protect visitors of all nationalities when they visit tourist destinations. Celorio said the advisory is just that, a “precautionary measure,” and not a travel ban to Mexico.

Heidy Salum, a binational liaison for the government of Baja California, is hesitant to take the warning too seriously. She says the travel warning has no new information from the last alert issued late last year, and that tourism in the area continues to thrive.

“The only thing that changed was a precautionary measure aimed at U.S. government employees, where they asked them to travel during daylight hours in La Rumorosa,” Salum says.

But Salum is worried about the urgent tone since that alone can be enough to scare off tourists in the immediate future.

“If we view the facts of the situation, tourism should not be affected, but the tone can have an impact,” she says.

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The warning for Baja California Sur says violent, organized crime is occurring throughout the state. In the first five months of 2017, Baja California Sur registered 169 killings, a 369 percent uptick from last year in that same time period, according to The Associated Press.

While crime has soared in parts of Mexico, when compared to homicides rates in major U.S. cities, the figures appear small. At this year’s midpoint, for example, 323 people had been violently killed in Chicago — more than double the murders in Baja California Sur.

The semi-annual warning, though, has already been picked up by numerous American news outlets and has filled the airwaves in Mexican cities bordering the U.S. In a radio announcement heard in Tijuana, U.S. officials warned: “gun battles between rival criminal organizations have taken place on streets and in public places during broad daylight.”

In Mexico, locals tend to welcome such advisories with irritation and resentment, arguing residential and commercial areas are safer than portrayed. While some Americans are quick to broadcast on social media their fear of traveling to Mexico.

This fear can have an impact on the country’s $20 billion tourism industry. This includes medical tourism which is big in border cities like Tijuana thanks to thousands of foreign visitors seeking quality medical treatment at half the price.

Magda Dueñas, the marketing director at VIDA Wellness and Beauty, says 80 percent of patients are from out-of-the-country. In response to the travel advisory, Dueñas is firm in her position: “It’s good to be alert, but Americans should understand that it is not all bad in Mexico.”

“Like many big cities, there are areas with higher delinquency,” Dueñas says. “But we have to keep in mind that crime rates in some big Mexican cities are still better than other big U.S. cities.”

The murder rates in Cancun and Los Cabos are still significantly lower than some U.S. cities like Baltimore and Chicago, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice figures.

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“Mexicans are used to customer service and dealing with tourists, we actually like welcoming foreigners into our home and we worry about having everything go smoothly,” Dueñas says.

U.S. State Department officials say there is no evidence to suggest criminal organizations single out U.S. citizens in crimes based on nationalities. Officials also note escalated crime rates are in part due to targeted, criminal organization assassinations. And as for the Americans who have been killed during carjackings and highway robberies in Mexico, officials say they were frequently “at night and on isolated roads.”

Salum says tourism has not decreased in the state of Baja California, adding that the last two years have been the best the state has had in a decade. She remains hopeful that a travel warning will not cripple the strong tourism base the state has worked to build.

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