For Mexican tourism officials, the perception that their country is unsafe just doesn’t add up.
Twenty-two passengers on Carnival’s Splendor, on their way back from the pueblo of El Nogalito, in Mexico, were stopped as their bus was returning to the ship. Gunmen took electronics, jewelry and money, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. No one was injured.
In a statement, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, called the robbery “a rare and isolated incident,” adding, “While 22 people were in involved in this incident, in all of 2011, 22 million (22.7 million to be precise) international tourists visited Mexico, in addition to the many millions who arrived by cruise line. The vast majority of these visitors enjoyed their stay in Mexico without any incident.”
In a similar vein, Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara said in an interview last week that Mexico’s drug-related problems are limited to about 80 municipios, which she likened to counties, out of about 2,500. (The U.S., by comparison, has about 3,140 counties.)
The U.S. State Department on Feb. 8 renewed its warning about travel to Mexico, adding four states to the previous roster of 10 that it says have areas that are unsafe. The beginning of the warning said, “Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.”
But the report goes on to say, “Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs [trans-national crime organizations] which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. The TCOs themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. As a result, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and can occur anywhere. U.S. citizens have fallen victim to TCO activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery.”
It is unknown whether the recent incident in Puerto Vallarta is related to drug trafficking, which, the warning noted, has claimed 47,515 lives from December 2006 to the end of September 2011. Nearly 13,000 of those deaths occurred in the first nine months of 2011, the warning noted.
The new warning, Guevara said “is not perfect but is much better than the ones that we saw before,” thanks to the specifics in the warning, which also includes maps to help people better understand Mexico’s geography. The specificity also helps avoid painting all of Mexico with the same brush, she said. And, she noted, Mexico is a large country — more than 758,000 square miles, about a fifth the size of the United States.
Of the state of Jalisco, where Puerto Vallarta is, the warning says visitors should “defer non-essential travel to areas of the state that border the states of Michoacan and Zacatecas.” Puerto Vallarta does not border those states.
Like Lopez-Negrete, Guevara cited the 22.7 million who visited Mexico in 2011, noting that number does not include cruise ship passengers or those who cross the border for less than 24 hours. The number of visitors from Russia and Brazil has also increased dramatically, she said.
In the coming weeks, Mexico will have one foreign visitor of huge importance: Pope Benedict XVI is to visit Guanajuato next month.
The Associated Press reported that one drug gang has posted banners warning the rest to keep the peace during the visit. One said, in part, “You have been warned, New Generation, we want Guanajuato in peace, so don’t think about moving in and much less causing violence, precisely at this time when His Holiness Benedict XVI is coming.” The banner is thought to be the work of the Knights Templar. New Generation is a rival gang.
The pope is expected to be welcomed by President Felipe Calderon.