The news is alarming and the media is giving hyper-attention to the drug cartel killings and kidnappings happening in the states that border Mexico and the U.S. The media talks as if this was a universal problem across Mexico — and this makes me angry. Yesterday, I listened to the Diane Rehm show on NPR while driving my car on the interstate. Guests and callers talked about Mexico in sweeping terms and the more they talked the more frustrated I became. Parents called in asking if it was safe to send their college children to Mexico to study language. I wanted to call or email the show (difficult to do when driving) to protest the perception promulgated that Mexico is not safe. The situations hyped by the media are localized and most often between warring drug factions. The very, very wealthy in Mexico City are concerned because they have always been at risk for economic kidnapping for ransom, and now with the increased drug violence, they are more at risk. This does not trickle down to affect the average traveler like me or you.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article (a random WordPress link is below) by Jack Kurtzman saying that Mexico is on the brink of collapse and attributes this to failed state control of internal corruption and lack of economic well-being for its citizens. In my view, his assessment is over-reactive and full of half-truths. Mexico’s economy is closely tied to that of the U.S. and was healthy and on the upswing until our banking collapse. NAFTA, too, has done muc to erode the Mexican economy and the well-being of its citizenry, making it more vulnerable to the drug masters on both sides of the border. The U.S. has as much responsibility if not more for the current state of border affairs. The market drives demand in a capitalist economy and there is much demand for drugs in the U.S.
I’m not saying there isn’t a problem or that we shouldn’t be concerned. I am saying that Mexico deserves our support and attention, and the worst thing we can do is over-react. I also pose this for consideration: For those of you who have not been to Mexico, ask yourself if you are influenced in your perceptions by popular stereotypes that portray Mexicans and Mexico with negativity, especially since undocumented immigration has been a hot political potato in recent years.
I live in Oaxaca in a Zapotec village part of the year, and travel back and forth from North Carolina several times a year, often by myself. It is perfectly safe. I travel by bus all over southern Mexico, from Puebla south, and it is perfectly safe. Often, I will hail and take a taxi on my own, travel via local bus from Oaxaca to Teotitlan, and go to villages independently. My Spanish is not perfect and I am definitely a middle age gringa. I am not any more afraid than if I were to travel to Chicago, Los Angeles or South Bend, Indiana. I am aware of my surroundings where ever I go, and take precautions by keeping my money and credit cards close to my person in a small bag that hangs across my shoulders. I don’t wear expensive jewelry. I don’t keep large amounts of cash on me and withdraw what I need frequently from ATM machines.
If you have travel plans to Mexico, please don’t change them. It is a wonderful place with a rich culture, warm and generous people, and lively traditions. Enjoy yourself. I think the fear of the current economic crisis is instilling a fear in many of us that is permeating into other parts of our life … and this might be one of them. Mexicans, and the Oaxaquenos who I know, welcome us and want us to have a great experience in their country. Go… and have a good time.
Postscript: this with sent to me and I thought it is worthwhile to share with you — more perspective on the Mexican safety issue…
BLOG: The Real Travel Story for Mexico by Tim Leffel
Here’s the fundamental problem when it comes to talking about safety, travel, and Mexico: most people are terrible at understanding statistics. This seems to go double for TV newscasters, who will take a sensational soundbite over a reasoned bit of logic any day. Once I dug around in the actual data, most of Mexico is far safer than my own home town–and my own home town is right in the middle of the U.S. pack in terms of crime.
You often hear something like “200 Americans were killed in Mexico in the past four years.” But if you really look into those numbers, as the Houston Chronicle did, you find that all but 70 of those victims were either criminals or were part of a drug buy gone bad. So around 70 completely innocent tourists died—out of 58 million visitors over that time period.
That equates to 1 in 842,857, or 0.0000012 percent. To put that in perspective, those odds lie somewhere between your chance of dying in an airplane crash (1 in 659,779) and being killed by flesh-eating bacteria (1 in 1,252,488).
But it gets even better. Most of the slain Americans were killed in just three cities: the border towns Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo. Things there are truly out of control and it’s a war zone. But if you avoid these border areas where heavily armed drug cartels are at war, your chance of being a victim of violent crime decreases to a statistical point near zero, down there with dying from a deadly rattlesnake bite or from the Bubonic Plague.
Exactly one American on the State Department’s list of deaths was killed in Mexico City over a four-year period. ONE! As best I could tell, everyone who died in the popular resort areas either drowned, wrecked a vehicle, or committed suicide, and again that’s out of millions upon millions of visitors.
So next time Aunt Millie tells you it’s unsafe to spend Spring Break in Mexico because she saw it on Fox News, tell her to go watch her own local news tonight instead and report back on how much bleeding is going on just on the other side of town. The truth is, you’re more likely to get caught in the crossfire of a local robbery at a convenience store than you are to suffer harm in Mexico—unless you walk around wasted in Tijuana and try to score some coke…
NPR News Report, March 18, 2009: Phoenix, Arizona, has almost as many kidnappings and murders as Mexico City.