Safety In Mexico- US State Dept. Statistics 2008-2014

Safety Statistics Put Things Into Perspective.

There are new stories daily about violence in the USA. A CNN story on Jan. 8, 2014 was about road rage - how a man was shot and killed in PA while phoning 911. Earlier in the day a similar incident occurred where shots were fired but no one was injured. In the comments section, at least a dozen people had had road rage experience. Type "road rage" in their search box and you get page after page of reports. So don't talk about how safe the USA is.

I am not going to spend time repeating myself with "updates." Mexico is safe and Jan. 2014 is the last entry I am going to make on this web page. Some of the stats on this page are old. They don't make it any less valuable because naysayers repeat the same tired old stories today as twenty years ago.

Jan. 9, 2014, the U.S. State Department replaced their 2013 travel warning about Mexico with this warning.

"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. The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes. 

The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico was 71 in 2012 and 81 in 2013."

[Author's insertion - That is almost equal to your chances of getting struck by lightning - 90 a year in the USA].

"Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. The TCOs themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere. U.S. citizens have fallen victim to criminal activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery. While most of those killed in narcotics-related violence have been members of TCOs, innocent persons have also been killed." 

Then they go on to specifics and advice on how to stay safe. It is their job to be conservative and say only the most dire things. I remember a State Department warning about traveling some part of Mexico or the other every year since I got into the Mexico business in 1984. Take them with a grain of salt.

I drive about 4,000 miles every year throughout Mexico, including the border states. I go alone. I never have trouble - nor do I expect to. I do not stay on the beaten path. I do not let fear rule my life. I'm nobody special - I'm a guy just like you and you can have a wonderful trip too.

The State Department warns of carjackings in Tamaulipas. Well, heck, there have been carjackings in Texas and California too. One involved a missionary couple and the wife was shot and died. That is terrible, but the "rest of the story" is that they were driving a $50,000 pickup truck, lived in a poor community and had been warned that their truck was targeted. That is not the same thing as you or me being tourists, is it?

The State Department mentions incidents of kidnapping of US citizens attending weddings or funerals. To me, someone with relatives in Mexico is in a different category than your average tourist. Kidnappers would rather not deal with Americans or Canadians, but those who have family locally are easier to target. The bad guys know who has money and how to contact them. With plain Jane foreigner tourists, it is a crap shoot, so they are less likely to be a target.

In an interview with msnbc.com, Pablo Weisz, a security manager for the Americas for International SOS, said in 2012, "If we’re to talk about Mexico in general," Weisz said, "the risks to travelers have not changed that much." Of the 107 American deaths [in 2011], Weisz said he believes many of them were Mexican-Americans involved in the drug trade. He ranked Mexico as a medium security risk, mainly the border areas.

I read a story about a man who was attacked in broad daylight during a carjacking at a gas station. The thief broke the victim's leg. The victim crawled to the attached store to get some help and several people passed him by, walked around him or drove around him. That was pretty sad. Nobody offered to help. Oh, where was that, you ask? Detroit, near a University. It was NOT in a "bad" part of town. THAT would not happen in Mexico.

Here is what a fellow who took a driving trip across most of Mexico wrote me:

MEXICO IS SAFE FOR TRAVEL, is the latest news flash.  Three weeks, 3,500 miles, all our destinations achieved, traveling "controversial areas," with NO ISSUES.  No Americans.  Mexico has received a bad rap.  I realize there are many people that are content with experiencing the world watching the discovery channel in the comfort of cable.  There is nothing like the smell, the air, the feel, the people, that one can only experience by experiencing it first hand.  Mexico is so four wheel, all wheel, and two wheel drive VW camper friendly.  It's crazy we ran into many Canadians, Australians, and Europeans, but only two Americans from Seattle.  The media does not advertise people traveling successfully throughout the country.  Just like the bad news I will listen to on the 5:00 news in any town U.S.A.  So, this is my news flash, feliz viaje. - Brian from California.

You still are more likely to get struck by lightning in the USA than to be murdered in Mexico. And, I would like you to look beyond those raw numbers and make an intelligent decision. I just want to give you the facts and let you reason things out. I am not trivializing the deaths of anyone. Death is a tragedy. Neither am I sensationalizing these peoples' deaths, as most news stories do. The Houston Chronicle at least offered some analysis that puts things into perspective.

Are all Americans angels?

I cannot cast stones, but not everyone is an innocent tourist just because he has American citizenship. Some of us are involved in drugs, either using or selling. All the drug sellers in the tourist zone of Playa del Carmen must find willing tourists as customers. There surely were a lot of them - though as one Canadian friend told me, they were the politest drug dealers he'd seen in his world travels.

Way Fewer Canadian Deaths

A friend of mine, Paul Beddows who drives his RV to Mexico frequently and runs an RV Forum, analyzed these statistics: "I did some research and found an interesting point. The stats for Canadians murdered in Mexico are available and when you pro-rate those against the figures for Americans murdered, they come out at far less. In fact around 60 compared to your figure of 111. The reason to me is obvious, it takes Mexican-Americans out of the equation. They are at far higher risk as their trips to Mexico are usually to visit relatives, so large numbers of them go to areas, most tourists would never dream of going, like Ciudad Juarez. Another factor in that number that is not broken down is those killed because they were involved in the Mexican Drug trade themselves. I am betting at least 5-10 of that 111 were in that group. A smaller factor may also be domestic disputes between tourists themselves."

2 border cities account for half the murders

Half of the murders occurred in Cd. Juarez and Tijuana. So unless you are planning a vacation in either of those cities, you are 50% less likely to have any trouble. And, I (and the Chronicle) think it important to note that few of those murdered were tourists. They were people who lived on the border, had dual citizenship, had family and businesses on the other side.

Plain old gringo tourists like you and me are in a different category. But, yes, there were two naturalized citizen-students killed in Cd. Juarez. And there was a Mexican-American student pulled off a bus and shot. And there was a gringa woman who was shot and robbed in Tijuana. That one could have happened in any city in any country and should not be considered "drug violence."

I am quoting from a Houston Chronicle story of April 27, 2011:

The recently released reports don't specify how or why the Americans were murdered, nor does it name victims. But 80 percent of them were killed in border states where narcotics violence is worst - 39 alone in Ciudad Juarez, which shares the Rio Grande with El Paso, and other nearby towns.

The [US State Department] warning notes that most of the country, including major beach resorts, remains safe.

"There is no evidence that U.S. tourists have been targeted by criminal elements due to their citizenship," advises the travel warning, which was issued last week. "Nonetheless, while in Mexico you should be aware of your surroundings at all times and exercise particular caution in unfamiliar areas."

Victims of underworld

Many residents along the border have dual US-Mexico citizenship. Some of the murdered Americans may have spent most of their lives in Mexico. Other American border residents frequently cross south of the line to visit friends and family in troubled Mexican towns and cities.

Better than half of the 2010 U.S. victims were killed in Juarez and in Tijuana, which borders San Diego. Both cities are tumultuous binational communities that have become primary underworld battlegrounds.
Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7540367.html#ixzz1UBE9CCQJ

I encourage people to go to Mexico. The news stories and Mexico bashers harp on the thousands of deaths due to drug violence. Here is a less sensationalist story about your personal chances of being murdered in Mexico as an average tourist.

For 2010, MSNBC (which by the way interviewed me, but declined to use my comments, perhaps because they were too positive?) put the number of Americans killed in Mexico at 106. The Houston Chronicle says that murders have indeed tripled since 2007 to a total of 111 deaths. There are approximately 45 murders in the USA every single day.

According to NOAA, the number of people being stuck by lightning in the USA (both injured and killed) ranges from 280 (the number reported) and 400 (estimated since not all injuries are reported). I am no math whiz, but it seems that more Americans get struck by lightning than get killed in Mexico.

Murder versus traffic deaths

Dr. Richard Rhoda made an intelligent blog posting, comparing murders of Americans in Mexico to traffic deaths in the USA. It is about time others took up the flag of reason to combat all those who do nothing more than quote scare stories and statistics that are irrelevant to tourists.

Another blogger with some credentials who had a positive view of the murder rate in Mexico is Allyson Benton, Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group.

So I am beginning to feel less like a one-man band.

And, in fairness, not all Americans are angels. Don't you think that perhaps some of those killed may have been involved in some way with illegal drugs? I'm just sayin' ....

The bottom line is that you have a darn good chance of getting shot in the USA at a parking lot of a shopping center, a Walmart, a school, a post office etc. In fact, you have a greater chance of getting shot there than in Mexico. People hear the big numbers of killings but don't take into account that they refer to non-tourists. In terms of highway robberies, yes, sometimes they happen, but they happen in the USA too. Don't drive big, $50,000 pickups and SUV's and you won't get carjacked.

Do not confuse missionaries and people working in Mexico with tourists. As a tourist, you are unlikely to frequent the same neighborhoods, have possible confrontations with people who know you, or be targeted by criminals.

 

These Murder Statistics Will Scare You

But even when reduced to numbers, murders can induce hysteria. That is what is happening now.

There were 315 murders in 2009 and 23,779 violent crimes. The murder rate is frightening. It makes me afraid to go back. And to think I used to live there! Why, from Jan. 31, 2010 to April 1, 40 people were murdered. 

Lest you assume I am talking about Mexico, let me assure you that these statistics are from a city with a Latin-sounding name, Los Angeles, California.  This info is not from a tabloid, but from the LA Police Department’s own web site http://www.lapdonline.org/. They move the statistics from time to time, so look at their menu to find them.

LA is not the most dangerous city in the USA by a long shot (pardon the pun). Places like Oakland, Detroit, Philadelphia (a friend from NJ told me she would not go to Philly because, “people shoot each other in broad daylight there.”),  Newark, New Orleans and so usually win the death lottery.

Every day, approximately 45 people are murdered in the USA, according to FBI statistics.

The USA Leads Canada In This

611 people were murdered in Canada in 2008. That is less than 2 a day.

Yet, the Sunbelt states are happily inundated with unarmed Canadians every winter. I guess they have not heard the news that the USA is dangerous. Or maybe, they view things in perspective.

I am not denying that there is a dangerous war going on in Mexico between the drug gangs and the government. I am not denying that people are getting killed. I do not deny that very unfortunately, a few innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire. Even worse, deadly mistakes have been made by the very people charged with cleaning up the gangs.  They have shot innocents. But how many innocent people are killed in the USA every day?

The Border Is Not All Mexico

Mexico is not Reynosa. Mexico is not Nuevo Laredo. Mexico is not Tijuana. And so on. Mexico is not one city. In general, Mexico does not have murders like the USA does. Drug gangs and soldiers slug it out. Drug gangs kill other drug gangs. I talk to friends in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Cabo San Lucas, Tamazunchale, Pachuca, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Blas, Puerto Vallarta and on and on. Not one of them expressed fear of living in Mexico. Every one of them knew what was going on back on the border.

Putting Things Into Perspective

The facts are that an American’s (extrapolated to any foreigner’s) chance of being murdered in Mexico is less than his chance of being struck by lightning. According to the U.S. State Department, in 2008, 50 Americans were murdered in Mexico. 90 Americans were struck by lightning in the USA. Read on if you have an open mind. Oh, and to further fly in the face of accepted hysteria, in an average year, 20,000 people are killed by the “common” flu in the USA.

One advantage of living a few decades is that it gives you perspective. Back in ancient times (the 1960’s and 1970’s) people tried to dissuade me from driving to Mexico. It’s not safe, they cried. You’ll be robbed … shot by banditsarrested. Today people shout  the same untruths. They were wrong then and they are wrong now, according to US State Department and FBI statistics – the same statistics used by the Houston Chronicle, MSNBC, AP and others to scare people from going to Mexico.

In forty years and half a million miles of driving to almost every nook and cranny of Mexico. I’ve yet to see a bandit. I’ve yet to be kidnapped. I’ve yet to be afraid. Oh, I was arrested once, but I deserved it.

About 1 ½ million Mexican tourists visit the USA yearly. How often have you seen a headline: Mexican tourist robbed (or shot)? It happens. It’s just not headline-worthy. A friend of mine in the consular service in Los Angeles said that helping Mexicans who’d been robbed or murdered were part of his duties. Not one newspaper every asked him about such “incidents.”

The Chronicle headline that screamed that more than 200 Americans had been killed in Mexico since 2004. That’s nearly five years. That’s about fifty a year, which is not headline-worthy. To the Chronicle’s credit, it fairly pointed out that most of the homicide victims were involved in organized crime. Some were wanted for crimes in the USA. It allowed that in 70 cases, “ the victims were apparently visiting family, vacationing or living or working there.”

People get murdered anywhere in the world because of grudges, arguments or love affairs gone wrong. Or, sometimes people just get robbed and shot who don’t deserve it. It happens here. Every few days I read about someone getting shot in my hometown. It’s a shame, but it’s not a symptom of …  a nation out-of-control as some try to label Mexico.

Yes, gangsters shoot at each other and the army shoots back. It’s unlikely you’ll be in the neighborhood – any more than you’ll be in the neighborhood of a gang shoot out at home. The chance of getting murdered for any reason in Mexico is less than the chance of getting struck by lighting in the USA (90 deaths versus 50). It’s one-sixth the likelihood of your being gunned down in the USA. You could get gunned down in the USA at: a museum in Washington DC, a church, a mall, a fast food restaurant / convenience store, by a serial killer in South Carolina, California or anywhere, a drive-by shooting and so on.  

Statistics From 2007 and 2008

The FBI 2007 statistics state that there were 1.4 million violent crimes in the USA. 466.9 per 100,000 people with 16,929 murders or 5.6 per 100,000 people. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2007/offenses/violent_crime/index.html That sounds pretty scary to me.

The US State Department reported that for 2008, there were 221 deaths from all causes of American citizens in Mexico. As I said earlier, the link to that document is gone (deleted) from the State Department web site.

Detroit is as far from the Mexican border as you can get so that claims of “spillover violence” can’t be used (unless there is a Canadian Cartel). It has about 900,000 residents. In 2007 there were 19,690 violent crimes with 392 murders.  Houston, our forth largest city with about 2 ½ million people had 24,564 violent crimes (351 murders the same year. Gee it seems that some of our cities have more murders each year than death from all causes of American citizens in the entire country of Mexico.

Most Americans who met their Maker in Mexico did so via highway accidents or pedestrian fatalities (89). Second was homicides (50), next was suicide (24) with drowning and my favorite “Other,” trailing in the polls at 21 each. I’m surprised the Chronicle didn’t glom onto the category, “Executions.” (9). All but one of those occurred in Cd. Juarez.

Sometimes news stories mention a “poor American” who got into trouble in Mexico, but, believe it or not, some of us get drunk, high or loud-mouthed and go places we shouldn’t. I speak from experience, having done all four in my youth in Mexico and the USA. The only places anyone pulled guns on me or beat me up were in the USA. Well, there was that time in Oaxaca, but I don’t want to talk about it.

With about three million Americans tourists a year and about one million living in Mexico, the murder rate for Americans is around one per 100,000 or so – about one-sixth the murder rate in the USA.

Here’s what Antonio Prado, director of The Spanish Institute of Puebla had to say about safety for Americans in Mexico in my upcoming book, Meet The Mexicans:

Most of our students are surprised at how safe they feel in Mexico compared to how they thought they would. I have been at this school for ten years. In that time we have had about 5,000 students. The worst thing that happened to any of them was that two had their pockets picked. Most Mexicans are afraid of the States from what they see on TV. My wife and I went to a Catholic Mass. There was a Black man there. My wife was afraid to shake his hand because of the negative stereotypes from movies.

The people who are committing the crimes in Mexico know who they are committing crimes against. I feel very safe and in twelve years of living in Mexico, I have never had an incident. In the USA I was broken into, my car was stolen. Here the worst that happened to me was that the mirrors from my car were stolen.