Mexico has been making headlines a lot lately for the wrong reasons. This holiday season is passing with the news of three Canadians (one of them Mexican-born) killed there and this has been exacerbated this week by an attack on a woman in a luxury resort in the seaside town of Mazatlan. Understandably, some Canadians are wondering whether it is safe to travel to Mexico under these circumstances.
The evidence seems to point to the fact that more tourists have recently become targets for attacks, stray bullets and horrible murders, thus it becomes reasonable to think that travel to Mexico should be avoided. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada recommends through its travel advisory to “exercise a high degree of caution” when travelling there. So, should Canadians be staying away?
Every year, according to the Mexican Secretary of Tourism, close to two million Canadians travel south to enjoy Mexico’s sun, food and beaches. Tourism is one of Mexico’s main sources of income, surpassed only by oil revenues and remittances. Clearly, it is a very important industry that, under regular circumstances, results in a win-win situation for everyone: Tourists escape the winter freeze while spending money that benefits the Mexican economy.
Today, however, the situation is much more complicated. The Mexican government is engaged in a war with the country’s drug cartels, which are also fighting each other, resulting in a significant increase in violence that fills national and international news space. The death toll, last we checked, rested at about 50,000 since 2006. Unfortunately, along with the terrible loss of life, Mexico is trading its image as a peaceful place to visit for that of a dangerous and violent destination overrun by organized crime.
As portrayed by the media, Mexico has become much more violent in the last six years, and this is highly related to the drug trade. And yes, some of this violence has affected tourist destinations. However, this last point is not a general trend.
According to the latest Mexican government report, close to 80 per cent of all homicides related to organized crime in Mexico take place in 162 municipalities – out of a total of 2,456 – meaning that most of Mexico actually retains a lower homicide rate that most other countries in the Latin American region. Mexico City has an intentional homicide rate of 9 per 100,000 inhabitants, equal to that of Miami Beach, Fla. That’s a bit over twice the rate of Thunder Bay, which leads Canada with 4.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. But Thunder Bay’s rate is more than twice that of the state of Yucatan, in southern Mexico, where the rate is 2 per 100,000.
Should you go to Mexico? The answer is ultimately a personal one. Without denying Mexico’s serious violence problem, painting Mexico as a completely unsafe place is not realistic. Unfortunately, tourists will sometimes be victims of crime, and not just in Mexico. Risks will always exist and care should be taken when travelling, whether it’s to Mazatlan, Miami Beach or Thunder Bay.
Rolando Ochoa is a senior analyst at the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime, based in Montreal. He specializes in crime prevention, organized crime and justice, focusing on Latin America.