(Plenty of people were suckered into bad real estate deals, but that's a different story.)

Then came the aforementioned perfect storm of problems, which had a snowballing effect. Rocky Point never was exactly "safe." But, Soto says, suddenly the perception of danger spun out of control.

During spring break 2009, for instance, the University of Arizona issued a warning against traveling to Mexico — even though its women's golf team was scheduled to play a tournament at the Mayan Palace. When city boosters reminded college officials about the golf tourney, UA nearly pulled its players out, Soto says. Town leaders managed to convince the university that it was safe to visit, and the university team participated — though the players' buses received police escorts.

A roadside fish market at Malecon
Jamie Peachey
A roadside fish market at Malecon
One of the many sellers of knickknacks on the beach (and, this winter, one of the few people on the beach at all)
Jamie Peachey
One of the many sellers of knickknacks on the beach (and, this winter, one of the few people on the beach at all)

Soto's boss, Rocky Point Mayor Alejandro Zepeda Munro, met with the Arizona Board of Regents after he took office in January 2010, asking university officials to keep the anti-Mexico rhetoric to a minimum. Since then, the state's universities have gotten out of the warning business. Now, they simply tell students to use common sense wherever they go to Mexico.

ASU encourages students to read the U.S. State Department's Web site about traveling to other countries for spring break, says Karen Moses, director of ASU's Wellness department.

Still, boosters like Soto know they have a lot of work to do to "create the confidence in the parents" of students. It may take time, he says.

But town officials such as Soto and a cabal of developers, promoters, resort operators, and small-time investors and condo owners know they have to focus on getting the message out.

Because the bad news keeps coming.


Last year, a series of troubling news articles only served to ramp up the fear of norteamericanos considering a Rocky Point trip:

• May — Fake checkpoints reportedly were set up for a few nights on Highway 8, the road that leads from the border crossing at Lukeville/Sonoyta to Rocky Point. People manning the checkpoint asked travelers for identification but didn't hurt or rob anyone. It's unclear how long the checkpoints were in operation, but there have been no reports about them since.

• June — Rocky Point Police Chief Erick Landagaray Macias and his bodyguard were ambushed and shot on a major street in town. Both recovered. Macias had been quoted on ABC News about his attempts to reduce corruption on his force.

• June — The same day that Macias was shot, three Rocky Point residents were murdered at a service station in Sonoyta.

• July — An El Mariachi-like shootout between rival gangs outside of Altar, a small town about 100 miles west of Rocky Point, left 21 dead and six wounded.

• August — The bodies of 72 migrants from Central America were found in a ranch house just south of Texas in San Fernando, Mexico. A week later, the lead Mexican investigator in the case and one of his officers were kidnapped and killed.

• October — A U.S. Department of Homeland Security bulletin to local authorities in Arizona stated that cartel leaders had held a business meeting in Rocky Point. DHS admitted later than the info "proved inaccurate."

Rocky Point promoters take pains to note that most of Mexico's really extreme violence, such as the 72-body murder south of Texas, took place far from the beach town. For example, one of the murder capitals of the world, Juárez, adjacent to El Paso, Texas, is more than 400 miles away.

It's as if Americans perceive all of Mexico as the same place, boosters say, arguing that it wouldn't be logical to avoid a trip to Scottsdale because of murders in Oakland, California, or to consider Tucson "unsafe" because of the January 8 shootings of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other people.

Yet much closer to home is Nogales, Mexico, about 250 miles north of Rocky Point, and about 112 miles east of the Lukeville port of entry. The city of about 220,000 used to be teeming with tourists shopping for pharmaceuticals and knickknacks, and the bars were packed on weekends with young Arizonans. No more. On a trip there in December, typically a peak time for American shoppers, we found it nearly devoid of gringos.

Nogales saw its crime rate skyrocket last year.

At least 226 people were murdered — a 70 percent increase over the 2009 figures, says a State Department source. One body was found hanging from a street sign, he says.

By contrast, the rate of murders per 100,000 in New Orleans — America's murder capital — was 52 in 2009, about half that of Nogales.

Rocky Point has had about 11 murders per year since 2007, according to figures obtained from the town's police department. Assuming a population of about 50,000, that equates to 22 murders per 100,000 — less than half of New Orleans' rate.

But if it's unfair to compare Rocky Point to Juárez, it's also unfair to compare it to New Orleans, which hosts about 6 million visitors a year. Only a fraction of that number of tourists visit Rocky Point each year.

Strictly by the numbers, Tempe is safer than Rocky Point. Though the city experienced a record year for murders in 2010, with 12, the population of Tempe is nearly four times that of Rocky Point, and it has more yearly visitors. Also, most of the murders — including those of ASU students Kyleigh Sousa and Zachary Marco — were solved by police, and the murderers have been brought to justice.

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1 comments
Nikkidog
Nikkidog

Just heard when crossing the boarder into mexico, the mexicans are taking turkey, steaks, hamburger meat and dog food from the Americans.  Not a very good thing to be doing when it's Thanksgiving and a lot of people will be going down there.

 
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