Monday, 23 April 2018

MEXICO: U.S. Warns Travelers As 14 People Are Killed In Cancun Close To Tourist Hot Spots

One of Mexico's most popular resort destinations experienced a rash of homicides last week, raising concerns about the safety of tourists in the area.

In the span of 36 hours, officials said, 14 people were killed in Cancun. Five people were also wounded in the wave of violence that is believed to be related to cartel activity.

The bodies were found near major tourist destinations in the city, the station reports.

Nine of the deaths took place April 4, making it one of the bloodiest days in Cancun's history, according to Noticaribe, a news organization based in Quintana Roo.

The site reports 16 people have been killed in Cancun so far this month.

Five people a woman, her daughter and three friends were found shot to death April 4 in a house about 25 minutes from the beach, according to SIPSE, a Mexican media conglomerate.

Police suspect the family was involved in the drug trade, according to the media group.

The same day, three merchants were fatally shot on a street in a commercial area about 10 minutes from the Puerto Cancun marina.

On April 5, violence returned to the same part of Cancun, where two more people were killed, according to Novedades de Quintana Roo.

The consul general of Mexico in Austin, Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, acknowledged the risks in the city. Cancun is considered an area where tourists should exercise some caution.

The Mexican government knows organized crime poses a threat to its economy and has added security forces, he said in an interview posted by KXAN-TV in Austin.

Tourism is an extremely important industry for us. It has increased at approximately 10 percent per year for the last four to five years.

That means that for Mexico and for the Mexican government it's extremely important to exercise all cautionary measures, Gonzalez Gutierrez said.

Experts have attributed the increasing crime to drug cartels generally, as well as specifically the United States' opioid crisis and looser marijuana laws are spurring gangs to shift from growing marijuana to producing heroin, according to USA Today.

Mexico reached a record 29,158 homicides in 2017 and the rate in the first two months of 2018 rose 21 percent over the same period last year, the newspaper reported.

But Mexico's tourism officials have emphasized that such statistics are not related to incidents that directly affected foreign visitors to places such as Cancun.

The U.S. State Department also has recognized that many homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations.

But turf battles between criminal gangs have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens, and shooting incidents injuring or killing bystanders have occurred.

The tropical coastal town of Cancun, which is perched along the Caribbean Sea in southeastern Mexico, attracts millions of Americans to its warm beaches each year.

The U.S. government issued a travel advisory earlier this year for several popular tourist spots in Mexico, including Cancun which is known as the spring break capital of the country.

The advisory said Americans should exercise increased caution because of widespread violent crimes such as homicides, kidnappings and carjackings.

If you're planning to head to Mexico for spring break, you'll want to pay attention to the U.S government's latest travel advisory.

Travelers are encouraged to exercise increased caution in some areas, including several that are popular with Texans such as Cabo San Lucas, Cancun and Cozumel, and avoid others spots altogether.

The travel advisory issued this wintersays violent crime such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery is widespread and some areas of the country have an increased risk.

There are also additional restrictions for government employees in some areas.

The country as a whole has a Level 2 rating from the U.S. Department of State, meaning Americans should exercise increased caution because of crime concerns.

An additional 11 of Mexico's 31 states have a Level 3 warning, which urges people to reconsider travel and five have a Level 4 or do not travel warning.

States under the Level 2 warning include Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Puebla, Queretaro, Tlaxcala, Veracruz and Tabasco.

The same level applies to Baja California Sur, the state with the tourist areas of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and the second-highest homicide rate 61.6 per 100,000.

Also under a Level 2 warning: Baja California, where Tijuana is located, and Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the Riviera Maya.

Baja California state as well as Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo have had an increase in homicide rates compared to the same period in 2016, officials have said.

Most of those slayings appear to have been targeted and the result of turf battles and assassinations between criminal groups, but bystanders have been injured or killed, according to the advisory.

In some areas, such as Campeche and Yucatan states, travelers have been warned that police presence and emergency response is extremely limited outside of the state capital, the advisory says.

Travelers are encouraged to reconsider trips to Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Estado de Mexico, Jalisco, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sonora and Zacatecas because of crime.

Jalisco is home to the city of Guadalajara, the Puerto Vallarta resorts and the lakeside expat communities of Chapala and Ajijic.

U.S. citizens have been told not to travel to the states of Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Guerrero and Colima, according to the advisory.

Previously, the State Department had discouraged travel to all or part of those states, but the new warnings are sterner, placing them on the highest level of potential danger.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to Guerrero state, including to Acapulco, where armed groups maintain roadblocks and may use violence toward travelers.

In Tamaulipas, violent crime is common and gang activity is widespread.

Armed criminal groups target public and private buses traveling through the state, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom, the advisory said.

Colima has seen homicides skyrocket in recent years due to the growth of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, and the state now has Mexico's highest homicide rate, with 83.3 killings per 100,000 residents, according to figures for the first 11 months of 2017.

People who decide to travel to Mexico should use toll roads when possible and avoid driving at night, be cautious when visiting local bars, nightclubs and casinos.

Don't show off wealth, and be extra vigilant when visiting banks and ATMs.

Travelers are also told to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive alerts and make it easier for officials to locate you in an emergency, read crime and safety reports for the country and follow the U.S. State Department on social media.

For the full advisory and additional details about the various risks and restrictions, visit the State Department website.

In August, the State Department advised visitors to exercise caution.

But the country's tourism minister Enrique de la Madrid said then that the warning and figures the advisory was based on didn't tell the entire story, especially of safety in tourist destinations.

Madrid said that the U.S. advisories covering Mexican states are overly broad and aren't tourism focused.

We take these warnings very seriously, he said then.

Mexico is a safe country to visit, it is a welcoming place. And we're working on our issues, but those issues don't relate to the risk of a foreign tourist in Mexico, Madrid said.


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