Last week, yet another guest told me that when she announced her audacious/suicidal plan to visit Mexico…(she’s been coming regularly for twenty years—and she hasn’t been beheaded, not even once) her co-workers went off on her:
“What, are you crazy?”
“Really? But it’s so dangerous! They’re killing people!!”
“Don’t you know there’s a war on drugs there?”
Argh. My eyes are still sore from the vicious rolling they got—having lived, worked, and traveled in Mexico since late 2000 (most of it alone) and never having met with anything even remotely dangerous.
A few days later, a guest/friend who has stayed with us no less than 10 times in the last nine years, cancelled her visit, due to dire friend and family warnings about Mexico.
This news made me deeply sad (and even more frustrated).
I am (still) so exasperated that I feel i MUST pull out the capital letters (desperate measures).
Call me Miss Information
Where are these well-meaning folks getting their (mis)information? Oh, right. The media. The people that sell news (advertisements, really) for a living. News which is very often sensationalism. Which gets more viewers and sells more ads.
No news is decidedly NOT good news for the media. Happy stories don’t sell papers or garner top ratings. Beheadings—well now, that’s entertainment!
For example: Your average North Korean thinks Americans routinely eat small children for breakfast with barbeque sauce. Why? Because they believe what is fed to them by their media.
They, however, have an excuse—they do not have access to alternative and/or objective opinions.
BUT WE DO! And yet, most of us still just trust the major news shows/channels, many of who seem to be every bit as about titillation as any saucy sitcom (and perhaps more so than most reality TV).
Critical Thinking 101
Don’t believe everything you see on TV (or even in this blog). Look around, get other opinions. Investigate. Google stuff!
Do you know that in certain (if not all) countries in Europe, less enlightened people think the U.S. is intolerably violent— barbaric, even? Why? Because most of their news about the U.S. consists of American serial killers, American school shootouts, and American mad bombers. (NOTE: none of these are at all common in Mexico)
Think Unabomber, think Jeffrey Dahmer, think Columbine. These are, sadly, world-wide household phrases. But, do they define the United States?
San Miguel and 99% of Mexican towns and even cities have never witnessed such insane episodes of mass, mindless violence. (Ok, maybe in badly-dubbed TV movies.)
Case in Point: Tranquil Beach Town Fed to Sharks
Of course it’s fine, even necessary, to report a violent event. But does it have to get hours of press, days of coverage, and even re-runs years later to blow it hugely out of proportion?
The answer, apparently, is yes. Rumor has it Discovery Channel just RE-aired a show on my favorite safe, sleepy Mexican beach town, calling it “Shark Bite Beach” because, several years ago, two surfers were bitten there, and one nearby.
They neglect to mention that these were the first shark attacks in the area in 30 years. Nor do they focus on the fact that the unfortunate victims were surfing in front of open river mouths (Shark’s version of Furr’s Cafeteria. Surfing equivalent of playing in traffic.) Yet they make it seem like Troncones is overrun by Jaws and friends. Absurd. And yet people cancel reservations over this clever little phrase—affecting people’s livelihoods. (And yes, I swim and sort-of surf there as often as I possibly can. And Troncones is, truly, a beach paradise.)
Mexico: the Real Victim
It’s not just frustrating to be libeled and defamed, it’s immensely hurtful. (That’s why they have laws against that sort of thing.) A full 30% of Mexicans work in tourism…that’s a lot of families that are affected by all this trashy talk. Not to mention yours truly. Tourism, while it’s now starting to pick up, has been truly butchered by the media over the last few years.
Grateful aside: We salute the brave (rational) souls who do still come down, take advantage of the low prices caused by the anti-Mexico hysteria, have a great time and keep us alive. Bless you.
Mexican Violence Pales in Perspective
Of course there is violence in Mexico, and yes, there is a heavy battle going on to control the drug trade. Pretty sure there’s one in the States, too, with casualties and everything. I won’t even go into which country is Mexico’s main drug market (ahem) or supplier of weapons (double ahem).
But, one has to keep world-wide violence in perspective. Yes, there is violence in Mexio, but is it really that much worse than other places? Worse than, say, major cities in the United States? Read on…
Just the Facts, Señora
• There are fewer murders per 100,000 people in all of Mexico than in Los Angeles, California. (And far less than, say, Detroit.)
• Mexico is far safer than it was ten years ago, when you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about vacationing here…
• Mexico is actually one of the safest countries in Latin America.
• Big, bad Mexico City, for example, has far fewer murders per 100,000 people than Phoenix or Houston, and around half the murders (per 100K) than the City of Angels, USA.
• More than 50% of Mexico’s violent deaths happen in only four cities (Juarez, Laredo, etc.), places I would heartily avoid, myself. Like I avoid Detroit. (Sorry Detroit…I know you’re not all bad, but i’m not into big industry tourism, anyhow.)
• The other 2,396 towns and cities that make up Mexico (a country the size of Western Europe) have very low levels of violence, compared to these U.S. cities you wouldn’t bat an eye at visiting.
Safe as Casas
If you really want to know what’s happening in Mexico, why not ask someone who lives here, or who visits regularly? Or at least consult the articles listed below for some professional and balanced journalistic opinions.
These accounts make a valiant attempt to intelligently fight the relentless slander of Mexico, with facts, figures, and, most importantly, a sense of perspective.
Thanks and hope to see you soon, you intrepid/rational/critical thinking souls!
Casita de las Flores
Bed and Kitchen, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (a lovely, extremely peaceful town
in beautiful Mexico—and far safer than L.A., or Mayberry, for that matter)
Article Highlights (the Juicy Bits):
“Mexico is a lot safer than you may realize. We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.
“Yet it’s in the 17 of 31 states not named in the newly expanded warnings where you’ll find the most rewarding destinations: the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja California beach resorts, colonial hill towns like the ex-pat haven of San Miguel de Allende, even the capital Mexico City.”
“Before brushing a Mexico trip aside this year, consider that about 245,000 square miles are free from the State Department’s warning list (for a visual, check this CNN map) and it neatly matches areas people usually visit (Cabo, Cancún, Cozumel, Tulum, Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende).”
“But it’s still true that drug gangs are not targeting tourists now any more than they ever were. And even if the barrage of headlines makes it sound as if the entire country were in flames, the violence that feeds Mexico’s death toll takes place primarily in just nine of 31 states — mainly along the U.S. border where the smuggling takes place and in places where marijuana and heroin are produced.
The concept hasn’t changed: Stay away from the trouble spots and exhibit some common sense, and you’re more likely to perish in a tequila-fueled Jet Ski mishap than at a homicidal drug trafficker’s hands.
“In 2010, Mexico City’s drug-related homicide rate was 2.2 per 100,000. While it is not an exact comparison, since the Mexico database tracks specifically drug-related deaths, Washington, D.C.’s homicide rate for 2009, the latest year for which the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report is available, of 24 per 100,000 adds some perspective. California’s rate was 5.3; the U.S. national average was 5.0.”
“ Look, no matter what you hear, the U.S. has not warned citizens to stay out of Mexico.
The State Department warning says to stay out of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango — particularly Juarez.
At any given time, about 500,000 Americans are visiting Mexico. According to the State Department, 79 Americans were killed there last year, 23 of them in Juarez.
Mathematically, that means the rest of Mexico is safer than Dallas or Houston. It’s four times safer than New Orleans.”
Too often in the past, these types of government alerts have taken a broad-brush approach, simply advising against travel to a country as a whole. What’s different about this warning, issued Sunday following the shooting in Ciudad Juárez of three people with ties to the American consulate, is its level of detail, and the way it rightly targets only towns where drug-related violence has been rampant.
“As the State Department points out, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, and this isn’t likely to change. Nearly a million Americans live in various parts of the country, enjoying the benefits of an inexpensive retirement and low-cost medical care.
I just returned from seven days in Mazatlan and Sayulita, a surfing and beach town near Puerto Vallarta popular with many from Seattle and Portland. I experienced nothing out of the ordinary, except perhaps, fewer tourists than usual. Restaurants were lively and filled with Americans and Canadians who were there seemed to be enjoying their vacations with no hassles or problems.
“The bottom line: If you’re planning a vacation soon to Mexico, by all means go, but heed the State Department’s advice and use common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where drug dealing might occur.”
“Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.
Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, “Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?” or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.”
“Analyzing Geography and Crime Statistics
Here are some facts:
- An overwhelming majority of the crime is in the northern part of the country.
- The distance between Tijuana and Cancun almost matches the distance between Los Angeles and New York.
- An overwhelming majority of the crime is drug related, and it is generally cartel versus cartel. Americans aren’t targeted.”
“According to available indicators, Mexico as a country has a general level of 13.3 violent deaths per 100.000 inhabitants, making it one of the safest countries in Latin America. Levels in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela surprised us since they are at high as 16.8, 36.7 and 44.9 deaths per 100,000 population, respectively. Brazil and Venezuela are two and almost three times more violent than Mexico, respectively.
Moreover, if we compare this indicator with some U.S. cities we will see that our country is much better than we would expect to imagine. Comparing Mexico to Washington DC, New Orleans or Detroit the difference is very big, violence is a tangible problem in those cities. And without going too far, Mexico City has 9.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, far below of other major cities like Houston, with 12.5, Phoenix, witn 12.6, and Los Angeles, with 17.1. It is true that there is a big problem in Ciudad Juarez and three other municipalities, which altogether sum up to more than 50% of violent deaths in Mexico. The rest of the 2,396 municipalities which form the country have relatively low violence levels.”
“A falling homicide rate means people in Mexico are less likely to die violently now than they were more than a decade ago.
It also means tourists as well as locals may be safer than many believe.
Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles’ and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C.”