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Mexico's drug war doesn't add up as a safety threat to tourists

March 30, 2009 |  8:48 am

El Arco frames the Cabo San Lucas shoreline.

I recently booked a May round-trip Alaska Airlines flight to and from Cabo San Lucas for a base price of $150.00. The after-tax rate of $249 is perhaps the lowest I've paid for a trip to Land's End in 20 years.

Of course if you've watched the news, you know that Mexico is now ruled entirely by drug lords and crooked cops. I'll have to dodge bullets, inspect shadows for kidnappers and check my fish cooler for human heads.

But sometimes you just have to let caution fly and have some fun....

Seriously, the U.S. media, despite admirable coverage of most aspects of Mexico's high-profile drug war, have frightened thousands into believing they face certain peril if they set foot in Mexico.

In truth, many stand at least as good a chance of becoming a murder victim in or near their own communities.

So implies Frank Koughan, executive editor of the Burro Hall website and a former producer for CBS News' "60 Minutes."

In a recent blog post, Koughan, who for nearly three years has lived in Queretaro on mainland Mexico, repeated a point I've stressed often on Outposts: That the vast majority of the 7,000 or so people murdered in Mexico during the past 16 months were involved in the illicit drug trade or worked for law enforcement agencies fighting the narco war.

Noted surf angler Jeff Klassen displays a snapper caught on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula. Koughan cites U.S. State Department records from January 2005 through 2007. They show that 669 Americans died "non-natural deaths" in Mexico during a period in which Mexico received about 45 million visits by U.S. citizens. "Based on these numbers," Koughan writes, "the survival rate for Americans in Mexico would appear to be 99.9986%."

Many of those deaths were the result of accidents such as car crashes and drownings -- Cabo beaches are notorious for the latter during the hurricane season -- and some were listed as suicides.

As for murders, those State Department figures list 126, which Koughan states is "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%."

Throw in the fact that many homicide victims -- same with kidnap victims -- were themselves involved in the drug trade, and Mexico appears even safer for tourists. Far safer, at least, than many have been led to believe.

Of course, tourists still must exercise common sense. Stumbling drunk through town at 3 a.m., a common spectacle in Cabo, is an invitation for trouble no matter where you are.

-- Pete Thomas

Top photo: El Arco frames the Cabo San Lucas shoreline. Credit: Geraldine Wilkins / Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: Noted surf angler Jeff Klassen displays a snapper caught on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times