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Mexico giving tourists pause

Rising violence related to drug wars have many tourists staying away this year.

May 01, 2010|By Megan O’Neil

When Deborah Johannes visits her family’s beach cottage in the Mexican village of Popotla, just south of Rosarito, she travels, sans jewelry, in a low-profile Jeep Patriot.

“You don’t go driving a BMW in Mexico,” the La Cañada Flintridge resident said.

During her most recent trip she left her teenage son at home, even though he was on spring break.

“We would have loved to have our son take his friends down and surf, but none of the parents wanted to let their kids go with us,” Johannes said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s drug war has created an international public relations crisis for Mexico. Crime, coupled with the global recession, has hit the country hard. Air travel from the United States to Mexico dropped 11% in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. A U.S. State Department travel warning for Mexico remains in effect, and several colleges and universities, including USC, warned its students against spending spring break south of the border.

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Most of the violence — 18,000 deaths since 2006 — is concentrated in northern states including Sonora, Nuevo Leon, Durango and Sinaloa. And most of it is targeted, according to authorities.

But there have been several high-profile incidents involving American citizens caught in the crossfire of dueling cartels. On New Year’s Eve, El Monte High School administrator Bobby Salcedo was dragged from a bar and shot while visiting his wife’s family in Gomez Palacio, Mexico. And in March, an employee of the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez and her husband were killed just a few miles south of the U.S. border.

In light of the violence, some American travelers are heading to Mexico with added caution. Others are choosing to stay away entirely.

Volunteers from Salem Lutheran Church in Glendale last year canceled their annual service weekend to Tijuana due to safety concerns, organizer Steve Seeking said. The group, which included teenagers, had never experienced trouble in a decade of travel. Nevertheless, Seeking said, they felt it wasn’t prudent to cross into Mexico with children.

It was a “sad moment,” Seeking said, when he had to call Lutheran Border Concerns Ministry, the organization that facilitates the weekend, to tell them the church had decided to make a cash donation in lieu of the trip.

“They were not surprised,” Seeking said. “They obviously have been experiencing this with a lot of folks who are concerned about it.”

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