As spring break approaches and thousands of college students prepare to head south of the border, U.S. and Canadian authorities have rained on their parade by reminding travelers of potential dangers in Mexico.
Last month the U.S. Department of State (DOS) updated its year-old travel advisory regarding Mexico, in light of the increasing violence around the country.
The alert warns of the danger of kidnapping and murder, particularly near the U.S. border, and advises travelers to stay in touristed areas, not travel by car at night and avoid areas with prostitution and drug dealing.
In recent months violence and murder have increased exponentially in Mexico, especially in border towns. For example, more than 1,800 people have been killed in the border city of Ciudad Juarez alone since January 2008, as drug cartels battle over territory and influence.
Foreigners are not normally targeted by drug gangs, but U.S. citizens have occasionally been caught in the crossfire during confrontations between cartels and the army.
“Mexican and foreign bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country,” the DOS alert says, while also noting that millions of Americans visit the country each year without incident.
The DOS alert also warns of the increased risk of robbery, petty theft, and carjacking, even in non-drug areas. Travelers are advised to leave expensive jewelry at home, avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and avoid excessive drinking, which can make people vulnerable and less aware of their surroundings.
Mexican law enforcement has been hard-pressed to control the violence. Despite stepped-up patrols and increased police and military presence in many towns, the crime rate continues to rise.
Since December, the government has assigned 800 additional police and patrol Mexico City’s airport after a series of armed robberies targeting travelers leaving currency exchange kiosks. At least 18 people have been victim of these attacks, including one French man who was shot and killed after being carjacked outside the airport.
Yesterday the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued its own alert, specifically discouraging students from going to Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, two border towns that are at the epicenter of the escalating drug wars.
The Canadian Foreign Affairs Department has issued a similar warning, advising Canadians about the danger of traveling to border areas of northern Mexico.
Mexico is a popular destination for university students seeking sun, sand and celebration during spring break. More than 100,000 travel there every year, mainly to resort areas such as Cabo San Lucas, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.
The warnings and alerts do not seem to have put much of a dent in the numbers of students planning a Mexican spring break. The student travel agency STA reports that roughly the same number of people have booked trips this spring as did last spring.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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