Another deadly cartel shootout in Mexico is a painful reminder to beware of travel there
If you love the country, as I do, this is a painful reality. Many people visit without incident. That doesn’t diminish the risks.
The Mexican government launched a campaign in 2018 to boost tourism to Mexico. Tone-deaf best describes it.
The “Let’s All Travel Across Mexico” campaign was meant to encourage people of Mexican heritage to learn more about the country and explore it, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in Chicago told me at the time.
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I thought about that tourism campaign last week when I read that members of the Sinaloa drug cartel had engaged in a battle with Mexican security forces to free one of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons after the son was captured by Mexican soldiers. It took place in Culiacán, a city about 135 miles north of the coastal resort town of Mazatlán.
Burning vehicles left the paralyzed city smoking. Mexican troops, outnumbered by the bad guys who also had military-grade weapons, released El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzmán López, a wanted man in the U.S. for drug trafficking.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador supported Guzmán López’s release to stem the violence. “You cannot value the life of a delinquent more than the lives of the people,” he said, according to the New York Times.
At last count, according to the government, 13 people died.
Hmmm, how about taking a trip to explore Mexico?
It can be hard to travel through Mexico. You have to know which roads have turned into kidnapping trails or drug routes and avoid them. A road you traveled a year ago might not be safe today.
Paul Nielsen, 52, of Utah, and wife Janeth Vázquez, 43, of Mexico, used a dangerous highway one day last summer in the state of Guerrero. They were shot to death after thugs intercepted their car. Vazquez’s 12-year-old son survived.
If you love the country, as I do, this is a painful reality. Many people visit without incident. That doesn’t diminish the risks that exist in many parts of the country.
Over the last several years, I have written about Chicagoans who were killed or kidnapped in Mexico. Years ago, my uncle was kidnapped. He was just one of several relatives whose life was altered by cartel violence. After making frequent trips to Mexico over three decades, I stopped going to visit extended family.
I’m hardly alone. U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García of the Little Village neighborhood told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in early 2018, during his first campaign for Congress, that he hadn’t visited his home state of Durango, Mexico, in seven years. He boycotted it because he was angered by the violence and drug trafficking, he told us. After being elected, García made a trip to Mexico with a Latino leadership group, a staff member said in an email.
Last year, when I heard about Mexico’s tourism campaign, part of me wanted to laugh and the other part wanted to cry.
And when consulate officials and Mexico’s tourism secretary wanted to promote the campaign to our editorial board, I was eager for it. I told the consulate spokesman in an email that I wanted to find out what steps Mexico was taking to keep travelers safe. The officials later canceled the meeting.
Mexico is years away from becoming safe. As Congressman García told me last year, it struggles because of historic corruption. But you wouldn’t know how dangerous it can be by looking at the Americans, Europeans and South Americans stretched out on the beaches. Those areas aren’t as safe as they seem, with shootouts occasionally breaking out near resort towns.
In February 2018, about the time Mexico began pushing its tourism campaign, Forbes reported that more Americans were reported murdered in Mexico than in all other countries abroad.
The U.S. State Department tells Americans not to travel to Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, which borders the U.S. It advises people to use increased caution or reconsider travel plans to more than a dozen other states.
It’s best to love that country and learn more about it from a distance.
Marlen Garcia is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.