The State Department has issued an updated travel warning about Mexico, urging visiting Americans to be ultra-cautious because of all the drug-related violence.
The announcement supercedes a previous warning in May and comes after extreme, new violence -- including a Sonoran gun battle between rival gangs that left 21 people dead (two charred heads were found on a cemetary fence near the Arizona border on the same day) and an Iraqi-style car bombing in Juarez.
Most of the trouble can be found just south of Texas, especially in Juarez, the report says. Tijuana, just over the border from San Diego, is also a violence hotspot.
According to the bulletin:
More than half of all Americans killed in Mexico in FY 2009 whose deaths were reported to the U.S. Embassy were killed in the border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.
The warning also mentions the Mexican city of Nogales, just across the border from Arizona, as the site of cartel battles.
Visitors should consider driving only on main roads during daylight hours. And you may want to leave the full-size pickup truck or SUV at home -- cartel-affiliated criminals love those. Near Monterrey, stolen trucks have been used to block highways, preventing the authorities from responding to crime.
Oh, and if you are a victim of violence while traveling in Mexico, don't expect Mexican police to do much about it. "Many cases" are not resolved by the authorities. The warning goes on to say that:
In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens living in Mexico have been kidnapped, and most of their cases remain unsolved.
These warnings, and the news of violence that precedes them, undoubtedly prevent many Americans from visiting Mexico. That, in turn, hurts people in Mexico who are already struggling to earn a few bucks.
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Hotel operators in Rocky Point were among those complaining to the media last month after the State Department issued a warning about travelers getting stopped at fake checkpoints. No one was robbed or hurt, but the warning helped keep even more tourists away.
How much of this is just hype? As the new warning points out, "millions of people" travel safely to and from Mexico every year. And no Americans have been dragged out of their hotel rooms and beheaded (yet).
But with warnings like "never drive at night," travel in Mexico may never again be a casual affair.