Feature Photo: Journalists protest the violence Knight Foundation
Photo Above: Police investigating a car after a drug-related hit Knight Foundation

A few months ago, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, expressed his concern that foreign media were focusing too much on the violence related to the drug war and not giving enough attention to the more positive developments in the country, such as the rise of the Mexican middle class. While this may be true, it’s hard to ignore headlines about mass grave sites.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that 40 more bodies were found in a recently discovered mass grave site in San Fernando, bringing the total to 183. It’s also hard to ignore that 17 municipal police officers are among the 74 suspects arrested in conjunction with the killings. The reality is that things are getting really bad in some parts of Mexico.

The U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey issued a warning on April 8th, for the first time during the drug war in Mexico, saying they had

“information that Mexican criminal gangs may intend to attack U.S. law-enforcement officers or U.S. citizens in the near future in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí.”

These states are on the northeast side of Mexico, with Tamaulipas and Nuevo León sharing a border with the state of Texas. Thirty-four grave sites have been found in San Fernando, just 90 miles south of Texas, and the current body count is 183 and climbing. Authorities are saying that most of the victims were pulled off of buses at drug cartel roadblocks and bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer. San Fernando is the same city where 72 undocumented migrants were kidnapped and murdered last year.

The mayor of San Fernando, Tomas Gloria Requena claims that,

“San Fernando is Mexico,” he said. “It’s just like anywhere else.”

Recent events have led to a carefully worded travel warning from the U.S. Department of State on April 22nd, warning potential travelers that,

“There is no evidence that U.S. tourists have been targeted by criminal elements due to their citizenship. Nonetheless, while in Mexico you should be aware of your surroundings at all times and exercise particular caution in unfamiliar areas…. You should be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the northern border states of Northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas. Much of the country’s narcotics-related violence has occurred in the border region.”

Earlier this year, the BBC reported that 34,612 people were killed in Mexico from 2006-2010, with 15,273 drug-related murders in 2010 alone, according to the Mexican government database. Based on the numbers, the most dangerous places in the country are Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Michoacan, Guerrero, Ciudad Juarez, and due to the rise in violence over the last year, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

According to the U.S. travel warning, travelers are advised to avoid:

Northern Baja California: Turf battles in late 2010 have resulted in shooting incidents and violence in tourist areas.

Nogales and Northern Sonora: Northern Sonora is a key region in the drug and human trafficking trade.

Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua: Ciudad Juarez has the highest murder rate in Mexico, and U.S. citizens have been victims of drug-related violence in both of these areas. According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, almost 1/4 of the documented murders in 2010 occurred in Chihuahua.

Durango, Coahuila, and Zacatecas: These areas have seen a dramatic increase in violence over the last five years, and U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling in this area.

Monterrey and Nuevo Leon: Violence continues to escalate in these areas, and the local police don’t have the resources to manage it all. Travelers have been targets for robbery and kidnapping, and bystanders have gotten themselves mixed up in gunfire between local law enforcement and the drug cartels.

Tamaulipas: This is the area that has been in the news recently, and where drug cartels have set up road blocks. No highways in this area are considered safe.

There is also strong gang presence in Sinaloa, Michoacán, and the northwestern part of the state of Guerrero.

What do you think about the role of media in reporting the violence in Mexico? Have you traveled there recently?

Community Connection:

The situation in Mexico has been discussed at Matador since 2009, with What’s going on in… Juarez Mexico? and Is Traveling to Mexico Dangerous?