07 Jul 2012
CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico - Widespread violent crime in Mexico has prompted the U.S. State Department to warn travelers to avoid some parts of the country, including the popular tourist destinations of Acapulco and Mazatlan. Much of the violence involves drug trafficking gangs, but victims sometimes include foreign visitors. Still, tourism remains one of Mexico's biggest industries.
At the recent G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico's tourism secretary, Gloria Guevara, hailed world leaders for recognizing tourism's role in promoting economic development.
“One of every 12 jobs in the world are related to travel and tourism,” Guevara said.
But Mexico's image as a tourist destination has suffered from a crime wave that has prompted its top two visitor nations, the United States and Canada, to issue travel warnings.
In spite of the trouble, Mexico set a record last year, with more than 22 million international visitors.
Mexico is a big country and while some areas are like war zones, tourist destinations tend to be as safe or safer than the cities where many tourists live.
Retired businessman Bob Gebo and his wife Christine came to Cabo San Lucas from California 11 years ago on a fishing boat and decided to call it home.
“I think it is the safest place I have ever been,” Gebo said.
The Gebos are among the many thousands of American retirees who live in Mexico.
Bob Gebo says he and his wife enjoy interacting with Mexicans.
“If you live here like I do, you don't want it to be like southern California; you don't want this to turn into San Diego. This is a quiet place, it is not over-run... and the Americans that are here are a more adventurous type of people or they would not be all the way down here,” Gebo said.
Part of what keeps Cabo safe is a local police force that both residents and tourists can count on.
That is a key element in controlling crime, says security analyst Alejandro Hope.
“For its many, many flaws, municipal police forces have played a role that is very difficult to replace from afar,” Hope said.
Mexican federal police and soldiers patrol some areas where state and city forces have become corrupt or overwhelmed, but Hope says the worst violence occurs when there is a lack of local vigilance.
“They are the actions not of a criminal mastermind, but criminals who can do those things because of impunity," Hope said.
Hope notes that the recent creation of strong local police forces in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez has brought down murder rates dramatically and also reduced cases of extortion, kidnapping and robbery.
“As violence goes down, so will these other forms of crime," Hope said.
Hope says it will take many years and a lot of work on such things as judicial reform and police training to achieve the peace and order Mexico's citizens and visitors desire.