Border drug violence sparks travel alert for Mexico
"Violent criminal activity fueled by a war between criminal organizations struggling for control of the lucrative narcotics trade continues along the U.S.-Mexico border. Attacks are aimed primarily at members of drug-trafficking organizations, Mexican police forces, criminal justice officials, and journalists. However, foreign visitors and residents, including Americans, have been among the victims of homicides and kidnappings in the border region. In its effort to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed military troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens are urged to cooperate with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways." Read the full statement here.
American ambassador Antonio Garza said in a statement that the alert warning reflects the current reality in Mexico: "These conditions are widely known here in Mexico from watching the news every day, but many tourists are simply not as aware of what goes on in other countries as they are in their own."
American visitors are advised to stay out of the border region, and to avoid areas where there are high levels of prostitution and drug dealing.
Garza’s alerts, which in the past have infuriated politicians and the press in Mexico, appear to be justified. Calderon’s military campaign against the drug lords was launched 15 months ago, and the violence on the border has increased, especially in recent months.
Richard Marosi of the Times reported in February that the one-time party town of Tijuana is a ghost of its former self.
“Tijuana's recent wave of violence appears to have driven another nail into the coffin of a tourism industry already hobbled by its reputation for tacky tourist traps and rowdy bars and by long waits at the U.S.- Mexico border crossing.”
At the time of writing his article, more than 50 people had been killed in Tijuana since the beginning of the year, and the bodies of victims of the narcos turn up regularly. Reports such as this, telling how five youths were tortured, sprayed with bullets and dumped in an empty lot in Tijuana in March, are unfortunately common.
Cities across the border are being affected. As this Reuters report details, Ciudad Juarez, which has drawn attention because of a rash of murders of women, has seen 200 people slain in drug-related violence so far this year -- 10 times as many as a year ago.
'The overall death toll associated with drug gangs in Mexico has rise to more than 720 so far this year, well above the count this time last year,' reads the report, published at the end of March.
Mexico's drug wars killed more than 2,500 people in 2007.
The jury is out on whether Calderon’s campaign is working, but as Marosi writes here on La Plaza, it is having some effect. Recent killings by the narcos have clearly been an effort to dissuade the public from cooperating with state officials.
The narco-messages warn of death for informants. "This is how all finger-pointers will finish up," said one message hanging from a body this month, according to Tijuana's Frontera newspaper.
Picture: Jose Belaza, owner of Señor Maguey's, dozes off while waiting for customers at the restaurant. By 1p.m. on this Friday, he had seated people at just two tables. He said of the violence keeping tourists away: "We deserve this. The police are terrible. All of them are corrupt. No one escapes it. We don't want it but have to accept it as the truth." (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
--Deborah Bonello in Mexico City