Gregory Bull/AP
Armed police officials walk in a
neighborhood in Tijuana,
during a police operation.

U.S. Government Warns Students that Spring Break in Mexico Could Pose Dangers

February 27, 2009 01:36 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The U.S. State Department is urging Mexico-bound students to be extra wary, due to a surge in kidnappings and drug-related violence in the country.

Mexico’s Growing Violence a Problem for Tourists

With Mexico entrenched in a violent battle against its drug trade, the U.S. State Department is not the only group warning American students to be careful when traveling therein the coming months. Several universities are joining in the government’s warning. “We’re not necessarily telling students not to go,” said Tom Dougan, vice president for student affairs at the University of Rhode Island. He said they simply want to alert them to the dangers.

More than 100,000 high school and college-age Americans travel to Mexican resorts during spring break each year, the Associated Press reports. Although much of the violence has occurred in border towns, and tourists are not usually targets of kidnappings, officials want students to be well aware of the situation.

Officials have fought drug-related violence in the country for years, but a recent increase in murders, kidnappings and other violent incidents has highlighted the issue further.

Previously targeting mainly wealthier individuals, kidnappers in Mexico have expanded their efforts to include a growing number of middle- and lower-class individuals, as well as students, making up about half of the country’s cases. Mexico saw a 9 percent spike in kidnapping cases in 2008.
President Felipe Calderon launched a serious offensive against organized crime as a whole in December, and some feel that the pressure has pushed the groups to expand their kidnapping to make up for the money lost through a weakened drug trade.

And as kidnappings become increasingly deadly—more than 60 victims have been killed since 2006—families are becoming increasingly desperate. The rash of kidnappings comes amid a wave of attacks that has left hundreds dead across the country.

According to the BBC, 443 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico this past July—more than in Iraq or Afghanistan. BBC correspondent James Painter said, “On one notorious day in July, a group of heavily armed men shot dead 12 people in three separate shoot-outs within a period of eight minutes.” The violent trend in Mexico is already several months old: at the end of 2008, close to 3,000 people had been killed, surpassing the country’s death toll for all of 2007.

Mexico serves as the halfway point and main channel for drugs in transit from Colombia to the United States. Since his 2006 election, President Felipe Calderon has installed 40,000 soldiers to battle the drug cartels.

Considering the current situation, Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has called the warnings to those considering a spring break trip to Mexico, “sage advice.” He says there are many instances of “indiscriminate violence” and that “innocent people have been caught up in that collateral damage.

Background: Explosion of murders and kidnappings

Calderon’s war on drugs has caused major backlash in Mexico, including the deaths of more than 500 law enforcement officers over the past two years. The situation has even prompted some officers to quit or flee to the United States.

But civilians are targets as well, as reactive killing sprees have increased across the country. In many cases innocent bystanders have become unintended victims.

The increased violence has prompted some to say that Calderon’s methods—which focus on an amped-up military presence across the country, including at the airport and on highways—won’t work in the long run.

Others say the intimidating message sent by soldiers lining the streets will work, little by little. “No one’s selling drugs in the streets anymore,” said Juarez resident Bernardo Washington in August.

Reference: Alternative Spring Break, Mexico travel


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