Rethink break in Mexico

Two years ago, I got pulled over driving into Mexico. I tried to explain in my broken Spanish to the police officer that I was only trying to get to a hotel, but the officer demanded to take me down to the police station, or I could pay a five-hundred-dollar fine. After an hour of confused, heated conversation, the officer gave up and drove away. All week, I ranted about how insulted and offended I felt, and thought about how badly my personal rights had been violated.

Knowing what I know now, I couldn’t have been luckier.

It’s no secret that violence from Mexican drug cartels has increased over the past two years, yet American tourists (and vacationing college students) continue to make the mistake of disregarding its potential danger.

They have had shootouts with police forces in crowded streets, and often use fear and terrorism against civilians and government officials to secure their power.

According to a May report from the Congressional Research Service, Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) rake in anywhere from $15 to $25 billion annually, and may have more than 100,000 in numbers. They also reported 1,028 people were kidnapped in 2008, and that there were 5,630 cartel-related killings in that year alone. In recent years, 230 American citizens have been killed.

And these rates are not slowing down.

According to the U.S. State Department Web site, “Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues to occur at alarming rates,” and the kidnappings “have occurred in almost all of Mexico’s large cities.”

Are you still thinking you’ll be safe because you’ll be in a crowded, tourist area? Think again.

According to ASU professor Larry Woodruff, there are five major DTOs in Mexico. “One or more of them literally operate everywhere in Mexico,” he said.

Woodruff works with undercover agents in Mexico, and said, “any American who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time would be killed, and may likely be brutally tortured.”

With all of this chaos, it should be obvious that Mexico isn’t the perfect destination for spring break travels. Whether you know the statistics or not, it is vital to remain aware and cautious throughout your travels in Mexico. Know where you’re going, steer clear of shady areas and avoid talking to strangers in the street.

I know we Americans tend to think we’re citizens of the world, but when we travel to Mexico, we are not in control of what happens. For now, until there is order, assume that no one else is, either.

Dante is busy this spring break fighting kingpins in the streets of Chihuahua. Wish him luck at

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