In late winter, when rain and finals are real sources of stress for students, a week in Mexico may seem like the perfect salve. But after increased drug and gang violence there led the State Department to issue a travel warning for Mexico, the idea may not seem so attractive.
More than 100,000 high school and college students travel to Mexican resort areas during spring break each year, according to the U.S. State Department. The majority of the violence is occurring in Mexican border towns such as Tijuana, Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez, and tourists are generally not being targeted, yet the State Department stresses the need to exercise extreme caution in all areas.
“Mexican and foreign bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country” and “in recent years dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped across Mexico,” a statement on the State Department’s website said.
Mexico’s drug cartels are waging a brutal fight among themselves for smuggling routes, carrying out massacres and dumping beheaded bodies in the streets. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year, according to news reports.
U.S. universities are issuing their own warnings to students. As reported by the Associated Press, the University of Arizona in Tucson has urged its 37,000 students not to travel to Mexico, while many other universities said they would call students‘ attention to the State Department travel advisory.
Despite the bloodshed, the number of foreign tourists visiting Mexico rose to 23 million in 2008, up 5.9 percent from the year before. Patrick Evans, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for STA Travel, said its travel agents have been issuing their own advisory to students.
“Most are not going to the danger areas along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Evans said. “We tell them to follow the same precautions that they would if they were traveling to any place, whether it’s Europe or South America.“
For those students seeking to travel to the hot spots, his advice is a little stronger, though he stops short of suggesting not to travel to Mexico at all.
“We are giving the same safety information and brochures as normal, as well as giving them advice on alternatives places in Mexico to consider traveling to,” Evans said.
Some students are taking the travel decisions into their own hands. Sophomore David Mebane, president of UC Davis fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, says he and his friends have planned to go elsewhere.
“We had been talking about going to Mexico for spring break, and we were going to rent a cabin for several days,” Mebane said. “Then after hearing the news, we decided to go with different plans.“
According to the State Department, the situation in border towns is of particular concern. Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed in Ciudad Juarez since January 2008. The city of 1.6 million people experienced over 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008.
More detailed information on the situation in Mexico is available online at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_970.html.
TOM MORRIS can be reached at email@example.com.