Saturday, February 11, 2012

Risks and Rewards of Travel in Mexico

Link: Security,Justice, and Peace, Most Dangerous Cities Report (Spanish)

Link: Boston.com: US Increases Travel Warning To 14 Mexican States

Link: US State Department, Mexico Travel Warning 2/18/2012

Why is Mexico dangerous? Most people would answer that question by saying that drug cartels are at war over drug routes and some police forces are corrupt. Both of those things are true, but the problem is seeded deeper than that.

Mexico is a developing nation. It is not able to adequately educate and employ its young people. Many of those that are employed do not receive wages that allow them to take care of themselves and their families. People are not starving to death, but that are not attaining the economic status that they would like, either. Personal ambition and a culture that defines success in monetary terms cause people to do things that they realize are unlawful or unethical.

Criminal organizations take advantage of Mexico's proximity to the United States drug market as well as its people's desire to earn money. On top of that, the government has shown that is unwilling or incapable of fully addressing the problem. It is not able to enforce the laws nor is it able to deter young people from the lives of crime by fully employing them.

A recent report by The Citizen Council for Public Safety and Penal Justice lists the fifty most dangerous cities in the world. In order to meet the criteria for the survey a city must have at least 500,000 occupants and it must lay outside of declared war zones.

Forty five of the fifty cities on the list are in the Americas. Forty of those forty five are in Latin America. Nineteen are in either Central America or Mexico. Mexico has tweleve of the nineteen cities.

Of the ten most violent cities, five are Mexican cities. The northern city of Ciudad Juarez was listed as the second most violent city in the world. The violence in Mexico is attributed to the drug cartels and other organized crime groups.

The US State Department revised its travel advisory to reflect the current levels of danger in parts of Mexico. It released travel advisories for fourteen of the thirty one states. The StateDepartment recommends that United States citizens avoid four states all together and parts of ten other states. The State Department noted that American citizens have been robbed, kidnapped, or murdered in Mexico. However, the proclamation stressed that certain parts of Mexico are generally safe for tourism and other travel purposes.

The Mexican government is concerned that the warnings will dissuade Americans from traveling to Mexico. It has an interest in being a destination for Americans because of the economic benefits of tourism. That makes it necessary for Mexico to secure the areas that are frequented by foreigners.

The American government has an interest in making its citizens aware of possible dangers abroad. It also must find a way to maintain positive relations with the Mexican government. For this reason, the State Department Advisory details the security situations in each state and in the most visited cities and regions of each state in order to more accurately reflect the security situation in specific areas.

Based on the statistics for Mexico as a whole, the country is considered to be a dangerous place. The fact that a high percentage of the fifty most violent cities in the world are in Mexico further makes that clear. However, it is important to remember that many of those cities are in regions where cartels are competing for space. In general, they are also places where the economy is relatively weak. Cities that have strong industrial and tourism bases are less likely to be violent because more people are fully employed and the government provides better security in order to allow businesses to operate.

While it is impossible to make any one place completely secure, there are areas in Mexico that have reputations of safety. Cities that have a high percentage of foreign residents as well as resort areas and beaches with a lot of tourist traffic tend to be the safest places.

Travelers that are willing to venture off the well beaten path will also find pleasure in Mexico. The towns and cities that aren't touristy often provide travelers with a true glimpse of what life is like for the Mexicans that live there. Travelers to these places will not be treated like just another Gringo tourist. Instead, their presence and dollars will be courted and valued more.

In my experience, towns that aren't touristy make for better destinations because they are cheaper to travel in. They are often unpretentious and void of the false glamour and extravagancce of tourist traps. I take refuge in these places because they allow me to immerse myself in the local language,culture, and customs. These locations allow me to learn about and experience new things. The geographic and cultural separtion from my American life makes me feel unfettered to and unencumbered by the problems that I leave behind in the states. For me, escapism isn't watching a Hollywood movie or induldging in luxury; escapism is escaping to a place that is different that one that I am used to. Being safe is the most important goal, but one should take calculated risks in order to experience all that Mexico has to offer.

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