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Column 030215 Wall

Monday, March 2, 2015

Texas Officials, Once Again, Warn Spring Breakers Not To Visit Mexico

By Allan Wall

Spring break in Mexico is an annual tradition. And the past few years have seen a new, related tradition – a warning by the government of Texas against traveling to Mexico during spring break.

In 2010 the state of Texas warned spring breakers not to visit cities on Mexico's northern border.

The next year, 2011, the state warned them against visiting the entire country of Mexico.  The same was done in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

This year, 2015, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) published a February 24th news release entitled, DPS Offers Spring Break Safety Tips for Texans.  

The document has plenty of good advice, “tips for safe travel during the Spring Break holiday.”  Travelers should check vehicle maintenance before travel, drive defensively and slow down, wear a seat belt, not drive while fatigued, and not be distracted by an electronic apparatus.  That’s all good advice anywhere, at any time of the year.

After that it says that the “DPS also urges Texans to avoid travel to Mexico.”  

So that makes this the sixth consecutive year the DPS has warned Texans against visiting Mexico during spring break.

The document does recognize that the Mexican government has made progress: “The Mexican government has made great strides battling the cartels, and the department commends their continued commitment to that effort. DPS also has a responsibility to inform the public about safety and travel risks and threats, and based on the unpredictable nature of cartel violence and other criminal elements, the department urges individuals to avoid travel to Mexico at this time.”

It's relevant to point out that the behavior of many college-age spring breakers is not noted for the exemplification of safety, health and well-being.  Public drunkenness and debauchery are not safe wherever practiced, so why doesn't the state of Texas warn against those behaviors?

And it's really an issue that is much bigger than that of university spring breakers. It involves the entire issue of tourist security in Mexico.

The question of whether one is safe traveling in Mexico is a complex one, and depends a lot upon where one is and what one is doing.

It's also fair to point out that there are some U.S. cities that are rather dangerous.  St. Louis and Detroit each has a higher homicide rate than any city in Mexico with the exception of Acapulco.  New Orleans has a higher rate than any but three Mexican cities, and Baltimore has a higher homicide rate than any but five Mexican cities.

Statistically, American tourists are generally safe from violence in Mexico, as millions of them visit Mexico annually, the vast majority without incident. Of course, there is that minority of Americans who are victims. They may not speak the language, and the Mexican legal system is notoriously unreliable. Of course, it's unreliable for Mexicans also.

Mexico is a big country, about the size of Western Europe. The drug cartel violence, horrible though it is, is not distributed evenly throughout the country. Also, it should be pointed out that some Americans visit unsafe areas, engage in unsafe activities, and some are even involved with drug trafficking themselves.

The drafters of the DPS document are apparently aware that some Texans are going to visit Mexico no matter what the DPS advises.  So it says that “U.S. citizens who do travel to Mexico should always check the U.S. Department of State website for the latest information regarding security issues in Mexico, and they should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program….”

The U.S. Department of State does have a useful travel warning on its website. It's actually a quite balanced document, with a summary of the security situation in each Mexican state and the federal district.  It doesn’t actually tell Americans not to visit Mexico, and attempts to put things in perspective, pointing out that “Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business…,” but also tells prospective visitors what they should be aware of in Mexico.

The latest State Department Mexico Travel Warning was updated on December 24th, 2014, and you can see it by clicking here.

The bottom line is that security in Mexico is a complex issue that can't be summarized in a single sound bite.  

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.

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