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Memo From Middle America (Formerly Known As Memo From Mexico) | Should Americans Visit Mexico?
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March 02, 2009, 04:00 AM
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Is it safe for Americans to travel in Mexico? What are the odds they`ll be attacked? Is it somehow unpatriotic for Americans to visit Mexico?

I`ve seen this brought up again and again on the Internet, with emails warning readers to "Stay out of Mexico" and another instructing me to "Boycott Mexico."

Indeed, there are dangers in Mexico, and we ought to know about them. But we also have to put things in perspective.

As I`ve reported in a previous column, I recently moved back to the U.S. after residing for many years in Mexico. After moving here, my family and I have already visited Mexico once (at Christmastime ) and I plan to visit again during summer vacation. Like millions of Americans, I enjoy traveling in Mexico.

I don`t expect everybody to visit Mexico. In fact, it`s not my job to tell anybody where he ought to be going on his vacation. By the same token, I don`t have to listen to people telling me where I should go on my vacation either.

Crime is getting worse in Mexico, no doubt about it. (See my Wargaming Mexico—Will the U.S. Have to Invade?) Therefore it`s not surprising that many Americans these days would be wary of going to Mexico.

There is no place in the world where we can guarantee 100% that you will not be a victim of violence. But in certain places—be they countries, regions or even neighborhoods—you are statistically more likely to be a victim of criminal violence than in others.

There are some harrowing accounts of bad, and even fatal, experiences of American tourists in Mexico. Every death is a tragedy. Nevertheless, looking at the cold, hard statistics and the big picture, the odds of an American tourist being a crime victim in Mexico are very low. And, as James Fulford has pointed out in a recent blog entry, even if you stay in the U.S. you can still be attacked by a Mexican criminal.

The Houston Chronicle recently ran a piece entitled Caught in the Chaos [By Lise Olsen, February 8, 2009]. It reported that "More than 200 U.S. citizens have been slain in Mexico`s escalating wave of violence since 2004—an average of nearly one killing a week…" and that " More U.S. citizens suffered unnatural deaths in Mexico than in any other foreign country—excluding military killed in combat zones—from 2004 to 2007, State Department statistics show." (There are also 75 Americans missing in Mexico).

That sounds really bad. It is bad. But if you read the fine print of the article you get a more nuanced picture. The Houston Chronicle, in fact, did some good investigative work.

The article points out that most of the slain Americans were killed in only three cities—the border towns Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.

Border towns are rootless and lawless by nature. I`ve spent some time in border towns, including Nuevo Laredo and Juarez, and there are a lot of suspicious characters, including some suspicious Americans. I met one American in a border town who explained to me how he was in Mexico because he was on the lam from the U.S.

The drug trade makes border towns even more violent. After all, it`s in the border towns where Mexican narcos move their products across the border. They export drugs to the U.S., in order to serve their enormous and lucrative market, millions of satisfied American drug users, whose dollars largely finance the Mexican cartels. So the drug gangs fight over the border crossings.

It`s also fair to point out, as the Chronicle article does, that some of these American victims were not exactly innocent themselves:

"The Chronicle analysis showed some American homicide victims were involved in organized crime. The dead include at least two dozen victims labeled hitmen, drug dealers, human smugglers or gang members, based on published investigators` accusations. Others were drug users or wanted for crimes in the United States."

Of the 200 Americans killed, the Chronicle estimates that 70 or more "appear to have been killed while in Mexico for innocent reasons: visiting family, taking a vacation, or simply living or working there."

Ten days later, another article came out in the Houston Chronicle: Official: Toll Understated for Slain Americans [by Lise Olsen, February 18, 2009] quoting an American diplomat in Mexico who says the tally may be higher:

"Americans in Mexico continued to be slain at a rate of nearly one each week through the end of 2008 and there is little reason to think the violence will stop anytime soon, U.S. Embassy officials have confirmed. In fact, the number of homicides is likely higher, because many victims die after being taken to hospitals across the border and—along with other killings—often go unreported to the U.S. Department of State, Ed McKeon, Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs in Mexico told the Houston Chronicle.   `I`m convinced the total number of deaths is very much under-reported,` he said."

That could well be. McKeon is quoted in the article in his estimate that, in 2008, at least 30 Americans were killed in Ciudad Juarez (across the border from El Paso, Texas). That`s not surprising, given that a staggering total of 1600 people were killed in that same city last year. Things are very bad in Ciudad Juarez.

The U.S. consulate in that city has urged "all Americans to carefully consider the risk and necessity of all travel to Ciudad Juárez and the state of Chihuahua" and warned them to avoiding the area east of the city, a major smuggling corridor.

Consider that the first Chronicle article says 200 Americans were killed in Mexico from 2004-2008, and the second article says the death toll could be higher. Add to that the 70 missing Americans, and let`s say, just for the sake of argument, that 200 Americans were killed in Mexico in one year. Even if that were so, it would still be a miniscule percentage of the total of Americans who visit Mexico.

In 2008, it is estimated that 17 million, six hundred thousand (that`s 17,600,000) Americans visited Mexico, and most of them were not victims of crime.

Once again, I`m not telling anybody where to take your vacation. Go wherever you like, and wherever you can afford. But millions of Americans do like visiting Mexico, and most of them have a great time and even want to return.

Besides, some U.S. cities aren`t too safe either. This past year, New Orleans had the highest U.S. crime rate, with 19,000 reported criminal acts including 209 murders. I presume nearly all the murder victims were Americans. So more Americans died in New Orleans (one city) than in all of Mexico.

As Jeremy Schwartz, who blogs from Mexico for the Austin Statesman, puts it:

"While there are certainly some failed cities - I would never tell loved ones to go anywhere near Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana or Culiacan - most of the country is still stable and peaceful. As violent as the drug war has become, its victims are still overwhelmingly connected to the cartels. Few innocents are caught in the cross-fire. I wouldn`t necessarily recommend a sightseeing trip to certain border towns or through the remote mountains of the Sierra Madre, but tourists should feel comfortable booking a trip to places like Puerto Vallarta or Oaxaca or Veracruz. In many parts of the country, the drug war remains confined to the headlines."[How Bad is it Really? , Jeremy Schwartz January 5th, 2009 Statesman.com]

It`s also significant that one million Americans reside in Mexico, and they haven`t started fleeing the country yet.

Of course, I would advise anybody visiting Mexico to be prepared, do his homework, be safe, etc.

The U.S. State Department just released its latest travel alert for Mexico. This was an "alert", not the more serious "warning". It doesn`t tell people not to go to Mexico, it just provides some information that people should know in order to make an informed decision and be safer. You can see the alert here. It`s a good summation of the Mexican situation, discussing the narco-violence, petty crime, which regions are the most violent, and the fact that foreigners aren`t supposed to meddle in Mexican politics.

The worsening cartel violence could, in the future, put a dent in the Mexican tourism industry. But it hasn`t happened yet. In fact, calendar year 2008 saw an increase in foreign tourists in Mexico.

That`s not always what you hear in the media and blogosphere. Certainly, some parts of Mexico have seen a downturn in tourism—for example Baja California, including Tijuana.

But some of the sensationalistic headlines are misleading. One reads "Tourism Down in Juarez and in Mexico" but if you look at the article it`s only talking about seven specific cities in Mexico, including the infamous Ciudad Juarez. Another article, Drug wars Slashing Mexico Tourism, bases its title on the decrease in business for one travel agency.

But if you look at Mexico overall, at the whole country, the number of tourists actually increased. In 2008, Mexico had 22.6 million foreign tourists visiting (17.6 million of them Americans). This was a 5.9 percent increase over the previous year. (And 2007 saw an increase over 2006). Also in 2008, foreign tourists spent $13.3 billion in Mexico, also an increase over the previous year. [Tourists Spent $13.3 Billion in Mexico in 2008 Hugh Collins, Bloomberg.com, February 22, 2009]

Not only that, but private investment in the tourism sector increased in 2008, by 34%, with 52% of the investment ponied up by Mexican investors. The remaining 48% was mostly provided by investors from the U.S. and Spain.

As for 2009, the projection is that tourists will continue to flock to Mexico, encouraged by the weak peso and lower jet fuel prices. (Weak Currency Makes for Strong Tourism in Mexico, by Olga R. Rodriguez, Fox News, January 21st, 2009)

Once again, make up your own mind whether you visit Mexico or not. But 17.6 million Americans did choose to visit Mexico this past year.

I know at least one of my fellow VDARE.COM writers, Chilton Williamson, Jr., still likes to visit Mexico.

Chilton loves Mexico and simultaneously opposes today`s disastrous mass immigration policies. I noticed in Chilton`s recent VDARE.COM article My Two Mexicos that he has some similar sentiments to mine:

"As a traveler and a novelist, I have quite different responses to Mexico than I do in my capacity as a U.S. citizen and journalist confronted with the critical issue of Mexican immigration. I personally see no contradiction here. Advocates of immigration restriction are regularly attacked for being `anti-immigrant`, `anti-Mexican`, and `racist`. Of course, there is no connection, except in the minds of cynical ethnic politicians and liberal ideologues. The fact that I do not wish to see my country overrun by an alien people from the south does not mean that I am `against` them, or anybody. Truth be told, I have a fondness for Mexico and Mexicans, and have had for at least as long as I have been writing on the subject of Mexican immigration. Indeed, there is much in Mexican society and its people that I find superior to modern American society and to modern Americans. "

In the same article, Chilton reports that he took Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming along with him on a bus trip into the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico, and Fleming really enjoyed himself.

I`m hoping that someday I can take VDARE.COM editor Peter Brimelow traveling inside Mexico. That`d be fun!

(Another thing I have in common with Chilton is that both of us are aficionados of the corrida de toros, known in English as the "bullfight".)

Some say that Americans concerned about illegal immigration and Mexican meddling should boycott the country.

I received a mailing from an organization attempting to do just that. "Boycott Mexico!! Do not give your tourist dollars to Mexico!" the email exhorts the reader. The goal is an American tourist boycott of Mexico to force the Mexican government to apologize and stop encouraging illegal immigration.

Even if it could work, which is doubtful, it`s a misguided strategy. Why punish the Mexican tourist industry, which is not responsible for the current immigration disaster?

The Mexican tourist industry employs over 2 million Mexicans in Mexico. If all these people lose their jobs, they may be heading north. A successful Mexican tourist industry doesn`t hurt us—it helps us!

Furthermore, why berate and possibly alienate the 17.6 million Americans who like to visit Mexico—many of whom might agree with us on the immigration issue?

If patriotic immigration reformers are itching for a boycott, we shouldn`t waste time boycotting Mexico. Why not organize a boycott against some business or financial institution that profits from illegal immigration?

If properly executed, that would be a boycott worth supporting!

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) recently moved back to the U.S.A. after many years residing in Mexico. 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 and his website is here.