Memo From Middle America | Merry Christmas (And Travel Warnings) From Mexico

Some Americans are afraid to visit Mexico, given the ongoing and well-publicized drug cartel violence, but millions do still visit and aren’t victims of crime. What’s going on?

I’ve written about this issue before. It’s is not a merely academic issue for me: I take my family to visit Mexico twice a year. (For my most recent trip, click here.) We’re planning our next visit at Christmastime.

I neither encourage nor discourage Americans from visiting Mexico. But for those who go, I recommend they be well aware of where exactly they are going and what they plan to do there. The U.S. State Department website’s Mexico Travel Warning is quite informative:

Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. More than 20 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2012. …Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that is reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes.

On the other hand….

Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs [Transnational Criminal Organizations] which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. …Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere... The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico was 113 in 2011 and 71 in 2012.

I think the State Department sums up the situation well. There are potential dangers, but it depends a lot on where you are and what you’re doing. Overall, the odds of an American tourist being attacked are quite low.

The State Department webpost goes through Mexico state-by –state, with an evaluation of the security situation in each of Mexico’s 31 states and in the Federal District (Mexico City).

The information in the travel warning is consistent with what I have seen in other sources and with my own observations. The bottom line is that in Mexico it depends a lot on what part of the country you are in. Once again, this is not just academic; I take my family to Mexico twice a year.

Of course, if you’re going to visit Mexico, you ought to do more research on the place you plan to visit. Another good source is  American expats who live in Mexico. You can avail yourselves of their insights on various websites.

I would consider the State Department Mexico Travel Warning as being measured, fair and informative. And yet, it’s been criticized in Mexico as being too alarmist!

The latest update, issued July 20, 2013, was criticized by Mexican Tourism Secretary, Claudia Ruiz Massieu. See Mexico complains about "generic" U.S. State Department travel warnings from the Mexico Gulf Reporter, July 26, 2013.  

Mexicans shouldn’t complain about these warnings, they are put out for the benefit of American citizens who can make their own decisions. The warnings don’t actually forbid Americans from visiting Mexico. They just provide information. (U.S. government officials, however, are often prohibited from visiting certain areas except when on official business).

Consider too that 20 million Americans visited Mexico in 2012, pumping lots of money in the Mexican economy.

Besides, Mexico is not the only country profiled. State has travel warnings for 34 other countries, including Venezuela, Honduras, Haiti, Kenya, the Philippines, Israel and Iraq. (See the list here).

 The State Department is looking after us by providing this information. What’s wrong with that?

How about tourism to the United States? We have a lot of visitors.

In 2012, the U.S. had 67 million international tourist arrivals, making this country the second most-visited destination after France, at 83 million. (China and Spain tied for third place at 57.7 million).

Well, should we be offended if other countries’ governments warn their citizens about visiting the United States? After all, there is danger in the United States, and some foreign tourists have been crime victims.

As a matter of fact, other governments do warn their citizens about travel to the United States and what to watch out for.

This was noted in a recent piece by the Washington Post, entitled 16 American cities foreign governments warn their citizens about. [By Reid Wilson, November 14, 2013] 

The article begins by discussing the same travel warnings I’ve been discussing:

Planning a trip abroad? It’s probably best to check out the State Department’s list of travel warnings for countries with unsafe political situations. At the moment, the State Department has issued travel warnings for 34 countries, from the Central African Republic and El Salvador to Iraq and North Korea.

Well, just as State warns Americans about dangerous places to travel, so too do foreign ministries in other countries — and some countries warn their citizens to avoid heading to certain cities in the U.S. France, in particular, warns travelers to be careful in a large number of specific cities.

The article goes on to list American cities that citizens of other countries (mostly France) have warned their citizens about.

France warned French tourists to America about visiting metropolitan areas which include Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Cleveland, about which the mayor of Cleveland strongly protested. [French government warns citizens to avoid Cleveland Heights, Lakewood, Euclid, By Adam Ferrise, Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 14, 2013]

The warnings are specific, informing prospective French tourists about certain parts of said metropolitan areas.

The New York warning advises French tourists to be careful in Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. The warning about the latter is ironic as the famed statue was a gift from France.

As for our nation’s capital, the French government advises the total avoidance of the Northeast and Southeast and that “Le quartier Anacostia n’est pas recommandable de jour comme de nuit.” (Don’t go to Anacostia, day or night.)

Interestingly, three of the cities in the warnings were founded by the French centuries ago: Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans.

Regarding Detroit, the French government says that “The center is not recommended after the close of business.”

In the St. Louis warning, the prospective French tourist is warned to “Eviter le quartier nord entre l’aéroport et le centre-ville, mais la navette reliant l’aéroport est sûre.” (“Avoid the northern area between the airport and the city center, but the airport shuttle is safe”). That’s reassuring about the airport shuttle, assuming it doesn’t break down in a dangerous neighborhood.

In the Los Angeles metroplex, the French are warned about Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Long Beach. They are advised to avoid Watts, Inglewood and Florence.

As for the state of Florida, potential tourists are reassured that attacks on tourists, though frequent a few years back, are now rare.

Other countries have warned their people about American crime. The Canadian foreign ministry tells its citizens that “Canadians have been the victims of crime such as break-ins, assaults and pickpocketing in the Miami area, sometimes during daylight hours.”

The British Foreign Office informs potential British tourists to El Paso of Mexican border violence and the Ciudad Juarez border crossing. And that brings us back to our original topic.

If you go to the original Washington Post article’s comments section (up to 786 the last time I checked) there is all sort of discussion. Of course, there might be all sorts of ifs, ands and buts about the warnings, and other readers might recommend other cities be added to the list. But the bottom line is that the French government and other governments have, in order to help their citizens, have seen fit to provide them with this information.

Absent from the article, but not from the comments section, is the—ahem- demographic aspect. Paul Kersey has compiled a chart of the cities in question on his own website showing that most of them have a white minority. Further, as we know, even within the same urban area, the relative safety of neighborhoods is generally strongly correlated with the demographics of said neighborhoods.

The Mexican foreign ministry has its own website for travelers, the “Guia del Viajero”. That page has links to the situations in Thailand, Syria and Egypt for Mexicans considering travel to those countries.

As far as travel to the United States, it has travel warnings about two states—Alabama and Arizona. [English]Why those two?

It’s because Alabama passed HB 56 and Arizona passed SB 1070, both measures to combat illegal immigration. So the Mexican Foreign Ministry saw fit to warn Mexicans planning to go to those states about those measures. (The warnings are addressed both to legal immigrants and illegals—legal immigrants are reminded to carry their documents, illegals are reminded that they have "inalienable human rights and protection mechanisms under international law, U.S. federal and Arizona state law itself” and given the address of the consulate.)

In summary, nobody needs to get upset or offended by these travel warnings. Governments issue them for the benefit of their citizens who might travel. Use the information as you see fit.

Wouldn’t it be great though if our own government were sticking up for Americans’ interests right here in our own territory? How about Americans who aren’t going anywhere but whose country is being invaded? Who is warning them?

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) moved back to the U.S.A. in 2008 after many years residing in Mexico. Allan's wife is Mexican, and their two sons are bilingual. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here.