Violence in Mexico causes State Dept. to warn students
This Spring Break, students may be in for more than beaches and parties south of the border.
The U.S. State Department has issued a warning urging students traveling to Mexico to be careful because of an increase in drug-related murder and violence around the country.
“I can’t remember the last time the State Department issued a warning about students traveling on Spring Break, so when they do it’s something we have to take seriously, and students should not put themselves in a situation that could be potentially dangerous,” Vice President for Student Affairs Alan Galsky said.
Most violence is occurring in Mexican border towns, places where students may not typically travel. However, there were killings in Acapulco and Cancun, two popular vacation spots, according to the Associated Press.
“We have had documented violence, attacks, killings, shootouts with the drug cartels involving not only the military, but law enforcement personnel,” Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told AP. “It is indiscriminate violence, and certainly innocent people have been caught up in that collateral damage.”
Mexico’s drug cartels are fighting bloody wars with each other and against the Mexican government, massacring the country and leaving beheaded bodies in the streets, according to AP. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year.
“[The cartels] are suspicious of strangers,” Galsky said. “There is competition among themselves because of greater distrust. You’ve got all these forces at work, and that doesn’t lead to a good environment. For these people, violence is a way of life. If you’re viewed as an outsider that might be butting into their business, I think you’ve got some problems.”
Senior nursing major Amanda Staley said she went to Mexico in early January and stayed in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta.
She said she didn’t hear about the State Department’s warning until about a week ago.
“It kind of surprised me,” she said. “I’m glad I’m not going now. It’s scary though because you never know what could happen.”
A friend of hers who is planning to go to Cancun is still going despite the warning, Staley said.
Galsky said students traveling to Mexico should avoid being by themselves and stay alert wherever they go.
“I think if you’re going to Mexico City and if you’re in a downtown four star Marriott, I think you’ll be OK if you use caution,” he said. “Some of the back alleys of Tijuana are probably not good places to be.”
He said if students are careful while traveling, they shouldn’t necessarily change their plans if they are already planning on going to Mexico. However, if students are planning to sightsee in isolated places, it might be a good idea to do something else, he said.
“If you’re desperate for money and you’re viewed as a rich American college student, you’d be viewed as a target if you got into a remote area,” Galsky said.
The number of foreign tourists traveling to Mexico surged 5.9 percent from 2007 to 2008, according the country’s Tourism Department. The increase can be attributed to the decline in the value of the peso compared to the dollar.
More than 100,000 high school- and college-age Americans travel to Mexican resort areas during Spring Break each year, according to AP.