Friday, March 09, 2012

Debating Texas' travel warning on Mexico: DPS should leave travel advisories to the State Department

Despite his self-interested subject position, I have to agree with the writer from the Mexican Tourism Board who criticized the Texas Department of Public Safety for a stern travel warning issued on Tuesday titled, bluntly, "DPS Advises Against Spring Break Travel to Mexico." Countering that sentiment, writes Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete in the Austin Statesman:
Over the course of the next three months, Mexico will play host to a who's who of the world's most influential leaders.

In April, the World Economic Forum on Latin America will take place in Puerto Vallarta. In May, leading tourism industry figures will converge on Cancún for the regional summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council. The culmination of this trifecta will take place in June, when leaders from the world's 20 largest economies will meet in Los Cabos for the annual meeting of the G20.

This hardly sounds like a place to be avoided en masse. Yet, this is precisely what the Texas government has urged its citizens to do in its most recent warning about travel to Mexico, released Tuesday and simply entitled, "DPS Advises Against Spring Break Travel to Mexico."

This warning paints Mexico with a massively broad brush, discounting nuance, logic and facts. Mexico remains Texas' No. 1 trading partner and largest export market — in other words we are "friends" and as such, are disappointed by this travel warning.

In 2011, 22.7 million international tourists visited Mexico (not including those who arrived by cruise line or border crossings), trumping our previous tourism record, set in 2008. Furthermore, Mexico continues to be the No. 1 destination for American travelers. The overwhelming majority of these tourists enjoyed our beautiful beach resorts, gastronomical delights and world-class cultural offerings without the slightest negative incidents.
Lopez-Negrete does "not at all dispute the fact that there are parts of Mexico that are prone to violent incidents and are not currently safe for travel," though he may overstate things when he adds that "The same could be said of Austin, Houston or Dallas, for that matter." There is no place in Texas, or perhaps the world, outside a war zone, as violence prone as Juarez.

That said, when Houston recently posted its lowest murder rate in nearly five decades, Grits reminded celebrants that the record-low still left H-Town's murder rate higher than Mexico City's (9.4 per 100,000 compared to 8.3). The missus and I visited Mexico City last summer with a then-4-year old with no incident whatsoever, as is typical, and had a wonderful time.

Now, should vacationers be visiting Juarez, or for that matter, Acapulco? Probably not, though even in Acapulco the State Department says, "the popular tourist area of Diamante, just south of the city, has been less affected by violence." My own planned vacation in Mexico this summer has shifted from Veracruz to the Yucatan/Quintana Roo because of drug-related violence - perhaps being more careful than necessary, but why risk it?

So I certainly agree Americans should exercise caution visiting parts of Mexico (or Miami, or Chicago, or Houston, or LA), but the DPS travel advisory paints with too broad a brush. By contrast, the US State Department travel advisory offers a detailed, frequently updated state-by-state breakdown of which parts of Mexico to avoid and which are relatively safe. Most of the major spring break sites with the notable exceptions of Acapulco and Baja, appear OK. (MORE: Commenter Paul-UK supplies a link to the United Kingdom's travel advisory on Mexico.)

Mexico is an enormous place, not to mention one of the Texas' pivotal economic partners. DPS should stop this sort of politicized demagoguery - which seems aimed more at sucking away tourist dollars than promoting public safety - and tell anyone who asks about Mexican travel to check with the State Department.


Anonymous said...

If they can't tell the truth on the stand, what makes you think they are going to tell the public the truth?

Hamas, Al-Queda, DPS, what's the difference?

Oh yea, The DPS has its own Navy now... LMAO!

Prison Doc said...

I don't believe that either the DPS or the US State Department has a monopoly on travel wisdom. What's wrong with painting with a broad brush? I don't know much about the DPS' expertise, but with known problems such as lax border security and "Operation Fast and Furious", I'll take my chances with the DPS rather than with the current powers in Washington.

Let the traveler beware, and use whatever source with which he feels most comfortable.

James Averrill said...

It is my belief that a lot more murders, robberies, and rapes are committed in major cities in Mexico than ever make the official count. I base this not only on my own travels but those of close friends with lots of family members still living down south. As such, any comparisons in statistics are meaningless gauges even acknowledging that our own crime reporting is proven to be flawed to a lesser degree.

This is Spring Break time and having read all about the violence that is rampant in certain major areas of Mexico, not to mention the mass graves we hear about, and missing students, is it really so bad that DPS issues warnings? We all have access to multiple sources of data so anyone is welcome to research where they want to travel, no harm done by our state reminding people or potential dangers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The State Department is issuing travel advisories. What DPS is doing is more promoting South Padre over Cancun as a Spring Break destination, with no legitimate basis in any safety analysis. Pretending violence in Juarez threatens Spring Breakers in Tulum is pure, unadulterated hogwash.

Prison Doc asks, "What's wrong with painting with a broad brush?" Answer: Nothing if you don't mind basing your decisions on error, falsity and hidden agendas. Go for it. People are certainly allowed to base their beliefs and decisions on misinformation from the tourism industry, but IMO DPS shouldn't try to legitimize that spin with their law enforcement imprimatur. The State Department is providing legitimate (and historically quite reliable) traveler analyes: The DPS missive was little more than a slur.

Paul-United Kingdom said...

Here is the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice

Anonymous said...

And the Obama administration is objective and not politically motivated? Come on, Grits!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:03, first, what agenda do you think Obama is supporting by the State Department giving a more rigorous, state-by-state assessment of Mexico instead of painting the whole country with a single brush? Whose water do you think they're carrying?

The State Department does this because it's their job. Notice DPS seems to only do it right before Spring Break. Plus, DPS has a history of this sort of overstated scare tactic. This isn't their first rodeo. They've got to justify all their new toys somehow.

Relatedly, take a look at the UK advisory and notice the similarities to the State Department's. The difference is that the State Department, UK Foreign Office, etc., are basing their advisories on non-politicized, ground-level risk assessments. (E.g., the reality that you're more likely to be murdered in Houston than Mexico City.) Their goal is to provide accurate information, not to scare parents into switching their kids' trip from Cancun to South Padre, which is DPS' overt, stated agenda in the headline of their friggin' advisory.

Anonymous said...

They do it typically before Spring Break because that is when the kids go just across the border to drink and play...unfortunately, just across the border is where most of the violence is happening. I can point to several articles saying that Mexico City is the robbery and kidnapping capital of Latin America and you can't say that about Houston.

Don Dickson said...

Bear in mind that these are the same people who apparently didn't think Rick Perry was safe in New Hampshire.

Mexfiles said...

I think it's a shame you're bypassing Veracruz, one of the most historic and colorful cities in the Americas (think of it as a cross between New Orleans and San Francisco, with a dash of Havana)... yes, there are unreported crimes, but culturally, a lot of activities (including criminal violence) is dealt with informally and authorities are never involved. The murder rate here is much higher than it needs to be (although much lower than Brazil, Jamaica, Guatemala or parts of the United States) and almost never involves stranger on stranger violence, nor random shootings, as in Texas.

Frankly, I'm afraid to go to places like Dallas, and Austin, much preferring even the raggedest neighborhoods in Veracruz or Mexico City, where the worst I can expect is a reluctant "buenos noches, Señor" from the homies if this middle-aged guy is walking alone at night.

Anonymous said...

Of course, all these foreign dignitaries will have personal security details. Will all American college students have their own personal security? Call it anecdotal, but I've spent a lot of time in Mexico throughout the years. The difference between crime in Mexico and the US is that it is more blatant, and is much more rampant in government entities. And, if you're an air-headed college student looking for a good time, you might as well just wear a sign around your neck.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Mexfiles, I've been to Veracruz several times, not just to Ciudad Veracruz but have spent quality time in Xalapa and traipsed the state from Papantla in the north to Lake Catemaco in the South.

I tend to agree with you, for the most part, which was the point of this post. This trip, however, as to Mexico City last year, part of the reason for going is to take my granddaughter (who is utterly Spanish-fluent, thanks to a pre-K immersion program). She's got a running, now years-long commentary on "brujas" going, so we thought we'd take her to Catemaco to meet some. :) We decided, though, given the State Department advice, etc., that maybe driving around in a rent car in southern Veracruz with a five year old wasn't the wisest course of action, or at least one I could justify to her mom. If we were only talking about the city of Veracruz or Xalapa (love that town), we'd probably have still gone. Instead, it's Chichen Itza, cenotes, and beaches, which ain't half bad either.

Anonymous said...

9:42, the places the air-headed college students go are well-designed to contain them. (They all want to be with one another anyway). Check Quintana Roo on the US or UK list, y nada. Believe me, there will be cops aplenty where all the white kids are at Cancun, both to protect the tourists and to protect the Mexicans from them!

Anonymous said...

Let's put it this way: I'm a white boy who grew up on Houston's north side inside the loop, so I know what the barrio looks like. There are places in Mexico in which I would love to retire. And, there are MANY places I wouldn't set foot in during broad daylight with an armed escort. To try and downplay the danger to young white kids on spring break is irresponsible.

john said...

Mexico is a Hell hole. But the U.S. State Dept is corrupt--there's nothing left in the Executive branch that's worth one damn---and this has little to do with Hussein Obamarx.
The border should have our military, instead of them all dumped in the middle east.
You think because you might find an almost safe-tourist place to get drunk people should still go to Mexico?
WRONG. Some kids will be kidnapped, killed, raped, etc.--like every year. And Mexicans will continue to kill their own, especially across northern Mexico. What a pit.
That's why so many come up here. We need an old-fashioned isolationist policy, but everyone is too brainwashed by our whole lifetime of liberal leftist propaganda, which is even in the public schools. Heck, we may teach the illegals here to be better Marxists, and they can vote for Obamarx along with the Mayans, other dead & prisoners.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, if the advisory had been aimed at Spring Breakers in Texas, for example, telling kids at South Padre not to go party in the border towns, I'd consider that totally justified and evidence based. It's painting the whole country with the same brush that I consider unjustified and counterproductive. Mexico is a REALLY big, and diverse, place, and the threats from drug cartels are pretty specifically over identifiable, avoidable smuggling routes, to which the State Dept and UK Foreign Office advisories are a useful short-hand guide.