Veracruz highway with red pickup truck

Safety In Mexico- US State Dept. Advisories in Perspective 

Their job is to be cautious

Even though we disagree on the relative safety of traveling Mexico, I totally respect the men and women of the United States State Department. Theirs is a difficult job. They have long hours, low pay for what they do and are subject to stresses you and I can't imagine.

I have been friends with a few and had professional relations with many. Their mission is not to entourage tourism. It is to disseminate information to help American businesses and individuals stay safe. By definition, they have to be conservative in reporting risks. State Department officials release travel warnings and advisories with an eye to covering all bases. If they err, it is on the side of caution.

<>These are difficult times. There is indeed cartel activity in Mexico. I can't deny that. It is the likelihood of it affecting you that I debate.

For that reason, while I respect State Department advisories, I know from my own personal experience to discount them. Whether you choose to stay away from Mexico based on an advisory or not is your choice. But I urge you to read the whole thing. The State Department does not issue a blanket advisory not to go to Mexico. They exclude some areas (perhaps with a broad stroke, IMO), and advise you not to drive at night. I do the same. Drive during daylight hours and your trip will be better. Even I suggest some areas are best avoided. I have been driving around Mexico for 30 years. During all that time, many of the areas I've gone to were under advisories. Take that as you wish.

No More Statistics 

For years I presented arguments backed by statistics that channeled my high school debating persona. To my chagrin, people who wouldn't set foot in Mexico were not swayed. Those with an open mind got overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of stats proving Mexico was safe. The bottom line is that I wasted my time keeping this page up. 

Americans are still moving to Mexico in ever-increasing droves. Tourists are still flocking to Mexico by the millions. Don't simply make decisions on one-sided Internet "news" sites. Use common sense. Talk to someone who's actually been to Mexico and ask how safe they felt. 

With the ever-increasing deadly mass shootings and plain old road rage that claims the lives of innocent Americans so frequently, I don't know how anyone can say we live in a safe country. 

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.

Remember, too, that not all Americans are innocent. Some get involved in drug dealing which ends badly. If you've ever been to any tourist beach destination, you've no doubt seen drug dealers (albeit very polite ones) offering their wares.

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. Yes, they happen. 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.

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.

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."

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.

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. 

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.

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

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 bandits … arrested. 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

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 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.

Mike and Fluffy
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