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Spring Break in Mexico: Do the Math, Kids | The Truth About Mexico

3/26/09 7:32 AM

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Spring Break in Mexico: Do the Math, Kids Posted on 17 March 2009 Tags: crime, safety, spring break As the Iraq War enters its seventh A post by "Frank Koughan" | year, I’ve been trying to imagine a world in which Frank is the author of Burro Hall, and is a former CBS News CIA director 60 Minutes producer who has been living in Queretaro since George Tenet, 2006. To see more posts by this author, click here. faced with deciding whether to recommend sending young American men and women into a dangerous foreign country, receives information from the State Dept. and, instead of disregarding it, accepts it as credible and recommends standing down from the mission. As reported by the New York Times this week, this actually did happen. Unfortunately, it happened six years too late; the country was Mexico; the mission, spring break; and the young people at risk were Tenet’s college age son and his friends. And this time, it was State that was being unnecessarily alarmist. Last month, the State Dept. issued a travel advisory for Mexico that was, by bureaucratic memo standards, rather breathless: “Mexican drug cartels are engaged in an increasingly violent conflict - both among themselves and with Mexican security services - for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.Mexico border…Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have

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Spring Break in Mexico: Do the Math, Kids | The Truth About Mexico

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resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area… The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.” The phrase “large fire fights” tends to have a cooling effect on the tourism trade, and sure enough, colleges across the US have started warning students against spending spring break in a “war zone.” I have lived in Querétaro, Mexico, for two-and-a-half years. My city is about 450 miles from the nearest beach, and farther still from the nearest wet t-shirt contest, and so I don’t have any particular interest in persuading a swarm of horny teenagers to come survive for a week on tequila shooters. But America’s young people are being fed a lot of misinformation about their neighbor to the south, so I’m here to set the record straight. For the children. There is indeed a great deal of senseless, drug-fueled violence happening in Mexico right now: over 5,000 people were killed last year, and this year the body count hit 1,000 in just 51 days. But the vast, vast majority of the dead were either involved in the drug trade themselves, or were part of the forces (Army/ police/ judges/ officials) who are fighting them. If you’re planning to spend spring break either working for a drug cartel or joining the Mexican Army, then by all means you should think twice about coming here. Consumers of American media could easily get the impression that Mexico is a blood-soaked killing field, when in fact the bulk of the drug violence is happening near the border. (In fact, one way of putting this would be that Mexico is safe as long as you stay far, far away from the US.) If your spring break destination of choice is Juarez, Tijuana or Nuevo Laredo, I would humbly suggest that you’re both a degenerate and insane. You’ve got plenty of underage prostitutes right at home in America, and despite what you may have read there’s no such thing as a “donkey show” here. Tenet is right. Cancel your vacation or I’m giving your name to Interpol. It’s hard to blame universities for issuing these dire warnings, since they have a responsibility to their students, and the fact of the matter is, Americans do get killed here. But in debating whether or not Mexico is dangerous, they’re asking themselves the wrong question. The issue is, is Mexico dangerous compared to the United States? We’ve been hearing for years how American kids are falling behind in math and statistics, so I’ll try to keep the following simple as I can. According to the State Dept., 669 Americans died “non-natural deaths” in Mexico in the three years between Jan ‘05 and Dec ‘07, which accounts for 30% of “non-natural” American deaths around the world. Sounds scary, but then Mexico also accounts for 30% of the foreign trips taken by Americans, so what do you expect? Furthermore, we’re talking about 45 million American visits to Mexico, so while 669 deaths are a tragedy, they are not exactly a killing field. Based on these numbers, the survival rate for Americans in Mexico would appear to be 99.9986% Breaking that State Dept’s numbers down a little further, though, we see that 58 percent (389) of these “non-natural deaths” were from accidents - car, plane, boat or “other.” Eighty-five Americans drowned here in this national full of beach resorts. Fifteen died of drug overdoses and 61 Americans - nine percent of the total - committed suicide! Admittedly, life here can be frustrating sometimes, but any tourist who kills himself here should, in all fairness, not be counted against Mexico total. The number of Americans who decided Mexico would be a great place to kill themselves is nearly half the number of those who had that decision made for them. According to the State Dept, a grand total of 126 Americans were murdered in Mexico during those three years - just slightly less than the 45,000 killed north of the border during the same period. So while your chances of not dying here may be 99.9986%, your chances of not being murdered here are 99.9997%. Anyone who considers those to be dangerous odds would be advised not to spend spring break in Las Vegas, either. Recently, the Houston Chronicle took a look at the numbers (covering four years, instead of State’s three) and came to a similar conclusion: that fewer than one-thousandth of one percent of American visitors to Mexico come back to Uncle Sam in a pine box. Actually, the way the Chronicle phrased it was, “Caught in the Chaos: More than 200 U.S. Citizens Killed in Mexico Since ‘04”.

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So, y’know, one a week, which makes the country a lot safer than most US cities. But then the Chronicle goes on to note: “The Chronicle analysis showed some American homicide victims were involved in organized crime. The dead include at least two dozen victims labeled hitmen, drug dealers, human smugglers or gang members, based on published investigators’ accusations. Others were drug users or wanted for crimes in the United States…in at least 70 other cases, U.S. citizens appear to have been killed while in Mexico for innocent reasons: visiting family, taking a vacation, or simply living or working there.” In other words, of the “200 U.S Citizens Slain,” 130 of them simply didn’t draw their own weapons fast enough. So we’re really talking about seventy murders in four years, during which time Americans made 60 million visits to Mexico, which has a population of about 120 million. For the record, that’s ten percent fewer murders than took place in Houston, population 2 million, in the first three months of 2008: “HPD officials say that the City of Houston has recorded the fewest numbers of murders for the first quarter of this year since 2005. “The unofficial numbers show 78 murders were recorded through the first three months of this year. “There were 88 murders for the same period in 2007. That’s an 11.3 percent decrease.” In case it’s not clear, Houston officials were proud of this. And they should have been, because in 2007, Houston had the second-highest urban homicide rate in the country: “In Houston, the number of murders increased to 379 last year from 334 in 2005, a jump officials blamed in part on hurricane evacuees. “The homicide rate has been much higher in years past, especially the 1980s,’ HPD Capt. Dwayne Ready told the Chronicle in October. “‘Even if the number … for 2006 hits 400 it’s not a bleak picture for Houston.’” If 400 people get gunned down in Houston in one year, the Houston Police Dept. doesn’t think it’s a “bleak picture.” But seventy innocent Americans get killed in Mexico over the course of four years, and the former director of Central Intelligence is warning people to steer clear? Where was this sense of caution six years ago? Mexico is a real country, kids, not some isolated beach resort. There’s crime here. People die here – mostly by accident, but some by murder. But the same is true of the United States. The state of Querétaro, where I live, is very small – a little over a million people – and at any given time there are about 50,000 Queretanos working in the United States. In 2007, forty-one of them were shipped home for burial by the Mexican embassy. Strangely, no one here ever tries to talk me out of returning home for a visit. Share and Enjoy:

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14 Comments For This Post

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3/26/09 7:32 AM

kwallek Says: March 18th, 2009 at 8:11 am

It’s about the money and keeping it at home.


Danny J. Says: March 18th, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I feel strongly that there is a secretive push going on. Not actually to keep American dollars at home, but rather to put more pressure on the Mexican government to get this drug related crime scene under control before it explodes into one big nightmare. Everyone knows just how very important the dollars (and jobs) generated from tourism is to the economy of Mexico. I think there is a hidden push to overstate the level of violence to create a sense of fear among those inclined to travel to Mexico in hopes that the lost dollars from tourism will be the catalyst to drive the Mexican government to squash this scurge into oblivion. Just my two cents


heatherinparadise Says: March 18th, 2009 at 5:51 pm

I agree with Danny J. that there is some secretive push, but I’m not exactly sure I agree on the agenda. Putting pressure on Mexico to solve drug related issues that the US is at least half responsible for themselves? Why would they do that? Where are all these drugs going? Mexico and the US should be working together to solve the drug problem, as it is the problem of both countries.


Parker Says: March 19th, 2009 at 8:02 am

Hm….a secretive push to change the drug situation in Mexico? Perhaps I’m old and jaded, but I’ll say that I don’t believe the US has ANY interest in changing ANYTHING in Mexico. There is a lot of lip service regarding clean up this and that, but the US certainly has never wanted an educated, affluent populace south of the border. It serves the US’s purposes to keep’em poor and fighting amontst themselves. In the thousands of times I’ve been to Mexico…and ALL over the country, not just the tourist spots…..I’ve never seen anything even close to drug related.


JRose Says: March 19th, 2009 at 10:32 am

the problem is that there is a lot of demand of drugs in the US, in other words that country is full of people adicted to drugs, thats what makes this groups of druglords to want to have the control of the borders, the money that drug adiction generates.


Inside Mexico Says: March 22nd, 2009 at 2:08 am

Great post! The truth is there is a lot of drug violence in Mexico, and this has increased in recent years with Calderon’s pledge to fight against the cartels, but it is not being directed at tourists, rather between the drug gangs and the police who are frequently being on the take from one drug gang and suffer the consequences of rivalrybetween gangs (or in certain cases are directly involved with the drug industry themselves).

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No one who lives here (in Mexico) and promotes Mexico as a great place to visit/live/work/retire to is kidding themselves that it’s all a bed of roses but at the same time the holiday destinations in Mexico (Cancun, San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Riviera Maya etc)are not areas where nonparticipants in the drug war are being affected. I’ve lived in Mexico City now for four years and I can honestly say that I personally had far more run ins with violence and crime (mugings, my house being broken into) in my 5 years living in London. I guess what I’m saying is that you can still enjoy a fantastic holiday or year out or indeed life here in Mexico. There are problems but there are in all countries, and the UK and the US are certainly not with out fault themselves. With regards to the whole “failed state” issue, check out what Antony Garza, the ex US ambassador to MExico has to say on the subject: P.S I also I agree with many of the above comments with regards to the timing of these statements. It’s no coincidence that the US is in a severe economic crisis. This seems like a vain attempt to prove that there are worse countries to live in right now…


Robb Anderson Says: March 22nd, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Great article! Unfortunately, there is a very direct effort to steer consumers to spend at home during a down economy. There is a transcript of a very direct example of this on Sean Hannity show on Fox that was recounted on the March 14th entry on Mexico has for once decided to try and clean up the boarder by stationing the military in key boarder cities. I loved the quote that you are safe in Mexico so long as you stay as far away as possible from the U.S. This is a joint problem on both sides of the boarder — a lot of the arms in the hands of drug cartels are purchased on the U.S. side of the border and of course we know where the drugs are going. It seems very underhanded to try and put pressure on the Mexican government by issuing misleading state department reports when they are putting forth an effort to change the situation.


Mexico Mike Says: March 23rd, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Good work, Frank. Incredible! Great minds think alike. I recently used those same State Department statistics for an article on my web site. The Houston Police Department was a great quote. I’d used something from Los Angles or the FBI stats, I think. Also used them in a new book to be published in a few months on Mexican society. Ended up taking them out because I’d already proved my point by having 30 Mexican interviewees say the same thing. Contact me if you’d like to review my book – an honest and positive view about what it is like to be a Mexican. ‘Mexico’ Mike.


mari salmi Says: March 24th, 2009 at 10:47 am

I live in Morelos and I just wanted to tell you thanks for writing this, I’m telling everyone I know to read it.


heliosmazmiguel Says:

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March 24th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Spring breakers have been redirected to Palm Spring… Please don’t explain, a few years ago they were chased out of Palm Spring. Amazing isn’t it?


Vane Zamudio Says: March 24th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Thank you so much for telling the truth about Mexico. It makes me feel very sad and upset when I hear people saying that Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in Earth. Evidently all these people have never live in Mexico, and their comments are completely out of place. Mexico is more than the border with U.S.A!!! In my opinion is easier to point to what is going on in other countries, that facing the problems that we have in the U.S. due to a lack of responsibility of many politicians and individuals. I hope many more people follow your example (especially foreigners that live in Mexico), and take the time to fight ignorance and open the eyes of others that evidently don’t know the truth. Thank you again for your time, and the courage to speak up your mind.


Frank Says: March 24th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

You guys are making me blush. Thanks. (But please, send your spring breakers someplace other than Queretaro,okay?) F


Mercy Says: March 24th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I want to THANK you for the excellent article on this very important and pressing subject. Spring breakers average $60 dollars per student - and probably destroy more property and destroy the Americans image abroad more than the benefits of their vacation bring to Mexico. Yes, they are being encouraged to stay in the USA for spring break. I saw CBS news and Palms Springs doing backflips for the students to visit their city. I say - good riddance. Mexico deserves respectful tourists who appreciate the hospitality and service that Mexico has to offer those who visit. I know that many of the coastal cities depend on Spring breakers - and I am sorry that they are going through tough times. President Calderon is doing an excellent job in taking the drug cartels head on - but if the demand was not so BIG in the USA for drugs - and they did not send their ARMS and money laundering down here, things would also be different. I am confident that Clinton and Obama will help to straighten out all this mess - in the mean time - I hope that the MEDIA in the USA gets their information - and don’t resort to HYSTERIA like they have in the past. Great job and thank you. I will be passing your article on to many of us who live in Mexico, love Mexico and make our living in Mexico and consider it home.


Ellen Fields Says: March 25th, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Fabulous, fabulous story… thank you for writing it!

5 Trackbacks For This Post 1. Spring Break in Mexico: Do the Math, Kids | The Truth About Mexico : Travipath Says: March 18th, 2009 at 11:36 pm

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Musings from Merida... On The Subject of Safety... Why I Love Mexico A Safety & Security Diary: Yucatan From My Inbox: Cancun Safety Concerns Related BulletsSites and Bazookas Distances Between Tourist Destinations A in Cancun andCanuck High-Risk Areas in Mexico Adventures of a Third World Shopkeeper BillieBlog Blah blah blah Ginger! Clinton saystothe U.S. must Share the Countdown Mexico Blame Gone Native Crazy Is MexicoInSafe? Dropped Mexico Doesn’t Explore Mexico Fit withProfile Me of “Failed State”Xico From Amerca’s Distorted ViewsMerida Can Have Hammock Musings from Costly Consequences Heather in Paradise DrugMujeres: Crimes of LittleinConcern Isla Gringo Paradisein Resort aAreas Life’s Beach Is it Safe Refugee to Visit Mexico? Lifestyle Funjet Survey Living the LisaReports Loca “Mexico Safe” Apparently, We Borders Aren’t the Only Ones Living Without Who Have Noticed… Mexican Wave Distances Between Tourist Destinations Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide Zoe: YayCooks! mom!Areas I just in cane across this and High-Risk Mexico Mexico by chance Logic Test Mexico or and Bustsaw... Scott S: We traveled around Mexico Mexico Reporter last summer by bus (ADO,... My Guey Stewart: RivergirlI live part time in Merida, and like you, haveofnev... Ruminations an Expatriate Ellen Fields: Fabulous, fabulous story... The Mex Files thank youLiving for writing ... Yucatan Mercy: I want to THANK you for the Yucatan Rebirth excellent article ¡Órale, pues! on t... ¿What do I do all day?

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ClintonPlaya saysdelthe U.S. NAFTA Carmen 03/25, 9:57 pm | Comments: 0

must Share the Blame safety security site

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shares the blame for drug trafficking and the attendant

violence. Shetruckers addedtrucking that theviolence U.S. needs theft tourism Why Ito stop the flow of guns and other supplies into Mexico… and she mentioned she honeymooned here. Love Mexicothat Yucatan

Mexico Doesn't Fit Profile of "Failed State" 03/25, 11:01 am | Comments: 0

“Despite heightened anxiety about the escalation of violence and organized crime activity, Mexico does not fit the general profile of countries identified as failed states,” Moody’s said in a report released today. “The general foundations of its investment-grade rating remain solid.” Amerca’s Distorted Views Can Have Costly Consequences

Stayarticle up about to date NY Times Mexico by Enrique Krauze, author of the famous Mexico, Biography of Power. 03/24, 8:29 pm | Comments: 0

Drug Crimes of Little Concern in Resort Areas 03/24, 1:07 pm | Comments: 0

The Miami Herald reports: “It is as safe to vacation in the tourist part of Mexico today as to go to any city of the United States or Canada.” Subscribe to the RSS Feed Subscribe to the feed via email Is it Safe to Visit Mexico? 03/24, 1:06 pm | Comments: 0

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The Bakersfield Californian says, “yes.”

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