By Clarence Walker
Posted on March 26, 2010
Editor's note: Gangsters Inc. investigative crime journalist, Clarence Walker, of Houston Texas & Southeast Arkansas, previously wrote the following story about Mexican Drug Cartels that appeared on this site: U.S. Government Crisis: Mexico Drug Cartels: Are they Number 1 Organized Crime Threat in America?
March 2010: Spring break season has finally arrived. Skies are blue, the sunshine casts a pleasant glow and the chirping sounds of birds fill the warm air. Practically every college and school-aged kid in America, even others from foreign countries, count the days down toward packing up their gear and traveling off to far away countries and luxury resorts.
Places like Florida, California, Canada, Brazil and Mexico are hotspots for party animals to enjoy the thrills of a life time, or for the more conservative breed, spring break is a vacation opportunity used to serve a noble cause by visiting impoverished countries to help those in desperate need.
This year, thousands of American college students, regular visitors and foreign tourist groups headed for deep south Mexico for spring break may reconsider their plans and visit elsewhere. Of course, that depends on which part of Mexico they already planned to visit and if the warnings given are acknowledged and/or heeded.
What is the danger?
On March 14th, the U.S. State Department issued a high level alert to all travelers entering Mexico to beware facing possible outbreaks of violence between hard-core drug gangsters engaging in daily internecine warfare with rivals, and also the federal Mexican government.
Over the last few years, travel warnings from the U.S. State Department have been issued for 30 nations and Mexico is now listed among notable countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Triggering the State Department alert were the seemingly innocent murders of three people in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city located across the border from El Paso, Texas. Two victims were U.S. Consulate employees based in Mexico and the murder of another man married to another Consulate employee was killed in a separate incident, in broad daylight on March 13, 2010.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the slayings of the Consulate employees, vowing to, “help Mexican President Felipe Calderon break the power of the drug trafficking organizations.”
The execution style murders of government employees forced the State Department to request other personnel to leave the U.S. Consulate offices in the northern Mexican border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros until April 12th.
President Obama condemns last weekend murders of U.S. Consulate employees.
Drug war-related violence has exploded across Mexico since Felipe Calderon launched military assault against the cartels beginning in 2006. Since then, over 18,000 people connected with drug trafficking have been killed.
Approximately 500 law enforcement officers were killed by drug gangs.
Many victims are mutilated and beheaded, al-Qaeda style.
Major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico: (1) Sinaloa (2) Gulf Cartel (3) Tijuana (4) The Zetas (5) Beltran-Leyva. (6) Juarez (7) La Familia
Authorities say that the recent ongoing violence erupted after the Gulf Cartel, which control most trafficking routes through Monterrey, disbanded their operation from the Zetas group. Both groups are fighting to win control over drug routes into the United States.
Ralph Reyes, the U.S. DEA agency chief based in Mexico-Central America, explained in August, “the Zetas have assumed the role of the number#1 drug trafficking organization, responsible for many narcotics-related homicides, the beheadings, kidnappings and the extortions taking place in Mexico.”
The U.S. government calls the Los Zetas, who are former Mexican special forces soldiers, “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartels operating in Mexico.”
Drug war violence throughout Mexico has claimed the lives of several innocent civilians both Mexican and American, who mistakenly were caught up in ‘deadly’ cross fires between the gangs.
Equally terrible, according to law enforcement, those expected to visit Mexico during spring break this year could also run the risk of being robbed or kidnapped for ransom if not careful in selecting which areas they visit. According to the FBI, hundreds of Americans citizens have been killed or are still missing in Mexico under suspicious circumstances.
Mexican criminals operating abduction rings are rampant and one such group abducted U.S. anti-kidnapping expert Felix Batista in December 2008. Batista has not been found and many suspect he also was murdered.
The Associated Press reported in 2009 that 79 American citizens were killed in Mexico, a significant increase compared with the 35 victims of homicides in 2007. Organized crime experts say the murders were attributed to violence associated with Mexico’s ongoing battle with drug cartels.
Tania Lozoya, 15, of El Paso Texas, was killed by a stray bullet at her aunt’s house across the border in Ciudad Juarez in May 2009. Lozoya was shot after gunfire broke out between two men.
In December 2009, Augustin Salcedo, a California assistant school principal visiting the northern state of Durango was killed after gangs abducted him along with five others from a restaurant. The motive for the mass abduction remains unclear.
This all sounds pretty frightening, doesn’t it? There’s more: The U.S. State Department has also issued a second alert by warning people from traveling to several well known cities ordinarily frequented by tourist groups — cities located along the northern Mexico border.
"It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico and how to best avoid dangerous situations and who to contact if victimized," the State department said in a statement released to news media agencies and travel associations worldwide.
"Common sense precautions such as visiting legitimate businesses and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug use thrive can help ensure traveling to Mexico is safe and enjoyable."
"There is an increase in Mexican drug cartel violence in the northern Mexican border cities," Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety) director Steven McCraw said in a news media statement.
"Parents should not allow their children to visit some northern cities in Mexico because their safety cannot be guranteed."
Although widespread warfare has taken place in towns and cities across Mexico, much of the violence occurs in northern Mexico in the following locations:
(1) Ciudad Juarez (2)Tijuana (3) Nogales (4) Matamoros (5) Reynosa (6) Monterrey
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has also warned American citizens to avoid traveling to these Mexican states:
(1) Michoacan (2) Durango, (3) Coahuila and (4) Chihuahua.
Even Acapulco, a prominent resort, has been rocked by a spate of murders stemming from drug-related violence and organized crime.
Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said "there are many instances of indiscriminate violence of innocent people caught up in collateral damage."
Two weeks ago, at least 50 people were killed in drug-gang violence in Mexico , with 13 people killed around the Acapulco area.
Four victims were beheaded.
Mexican newspapers report that 2,009 people have been killed as of March 2010 and the body count is expected to rise as the raging turf battles between warring factions of the drug cartels persist.
Authorities have also reported that Mexican gangs have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in border areas such as Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and Tijuana.
And if drug cartel violence continues to shed blood around the clock like it has for the last few weeks in cities where tourism is as popular as margarita madness, the fun to be had in nightclubs, sun-tanned guys and gals frolicking on crystal sand beaches, may just have the thrill of spring break killed by the all bloodletting.
But tourist officials cry foul, complaining that the U.S. warnings against traveling to Mexico are too broad and are causing the safer resort areas to decline in revenue because the areas are included within urban areas where violent gangs operate.
Officials based in Baja, Mexico countered with a public relations blitz by traveling to cities in California to explain the distinct separation of the ongoing violence in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana from the rest of the majority of non-violent cities in Mexico.
To calm fears, authorities in popular tourist areas like Cancun and Acapulco are flooding the tourist strip known as the Golden Zone with heavily armed police.
According to tourist agents, despite the endemic violence thousands of college students will travel to Acapulco to attend the MTV annual spring break production and take advantage of lax enforcement against alcoholic drinking laws.
Amber Hays, a spring breaker from Los Angeles, told MSNBC news: "It's definitely on your mind, but I think I feel pretty safe with the military and the police around the hotels."
Another spring breaker, Alex Warren, a student from Indiana University, stated, "We're trying to stick in groups and trying to make sure that even though the clubs are far away, we're not trying to venture off from the tourist area."
Economic Meltdown: Does Drug War Violence Impact Mexico Tourism?
According to traveling agencies, the tourism revenue may decline for a second year in Mexico as violence continues to break out between the drug players combined with a soft U.S. job market that threatens the once lucrative profits generated by previous visitors on spring break.
Mexico tourism is the third major source of revenue besides oil and remittances and higher profits have steadily declined over the last few years as the drug cartels unleash unremitting violence against rivals and the Mexican government.
Acapulco's tourism marketing agencies predict that the number of spring breakers will drop 30 percent this year to 17,500, according to Piquis Rochin, director of international promotions for the organization.
The numbers of spring breakers in Acapulco handled by StudentCity dropped 45 percent from last year. Cancun has fared better with spring breakers declining at 30 percent.
"The economic crisis is still hurting us, and we've been affected by so much news about violence in Mexico," Rochin told news media reporters earlier this week.
In the city of Acapulco, where MTV will host its annual event, 32 people were killed within three days - between March 12th and March 15th.
But there are safety zones on many resorts for spring break visitors and MTV officials will tighten security around their production facility in Acapulco where several drug-related murders have occurred recently.
A tourist agency spokesman reaffirmed to the news media that the majority of spring break destinations on the Pacific Coast in Mexico are safe, including Cancun, the most popular, followed by Puerto Vallarta, the cities of Mazatian and Acapulco.
“On these properties there is security. We would never send anyone to an area in harm’s way,” said Hayley Whorrall, a spokesman for Beach Bum Vacation Incorporated.
As mentioned, the slaying of three innocent victims with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez on March 13th, provoked President Barack Obama to condemn the senseless murders.
"Whenever the U.S. government makes a statement it somehow affects us because we are a Mexico destination," said Marina Colunga, a public relations director for JW Marriot in Cancun.
"It's likely we will have a negative short-term impact because of the violence." Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero said in a news interview. "We have to wait to see how many spring breakers visit."
Mexico Territories Under Siege
The U.S. State Department and Mexico authorities admit that in spite of the presence of police and heavily armed federales patrolling the streets this spring break season, no person either living in or visiting dangerous areas in Mexico is immune from potential violence inflicted by criminals during robberies, theft and kidnap schemes if extreme cautions are not properly implemented.
Police say that kidnappers and robbers target tourist areas and 'nicer' places where they’re likely to find wealthy-looking prey expected to be able to afford covering a hefty ransom.
Although previously targeting wealthy individuals, kidnappers in Mexico have expanded their operations to abduct a growing number of middle-class and typical every day working people, including college students.
Mexico experienced a 9 percent increase in kidnapping cases beginning in 2008, according to FBI statistics of Americans held for ransom.
Here are the top-ten safety tips for those visiting for spring break in Mexico:
(1) Visit legitimate businesses and tourist areas during daylight hours and stay close to those who came with you. And keep your cell phone handy and in operable mode.
(2) Never wander off into unfamiliar areas alone without notifying someone which direction you are headed - and why.
(3) If you suspect someone to be either following or possibly targeting you, act quickly, notify authorities and warn those within your group.
(4) Cooperate with official checkpoints while traveling on Mexico highways and roads.
(5) Do not flout jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items.
(6) Travelers should leave their itinerary with a friend or family member.
(7) Check with cell phone providers prior to entering Mexico to confirm whether your celluar is capable of roaming on GSM or 3G international networks.
(8) U.S. citizens who suspect they are being targeted for abduction or other crimes should immediately notify Mexican law enforcement officials and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico city or the nearest U.S. Consulate or consider returning to the United States.
(9) Those traveling to remote or isolated hunting or fishing areas should be aware that they are distant from appropriate medical, law enforcement and Consular services if an emergency occurs.
(10) The U.S. Consulate General recommends that American citizens defer non-essential travel to the Guadalupe Bravo area - southeast of Ciudad Juarez and to the northwest quarter of the state of Chihuahua, including the city of Nuevo Casas Grandes and surrounding communities.
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department's internet web site at: www.travel.state.gov
; or call 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada.
In Mexico call the U.S. Embassy, ph# 01-55-5080-2000.
Meanwhile, the narco gangsters continue to engage in warfare against the Mexican government in a bid to survive being captured and staying alive while shedding the blood of ferocious rivals in order to control a multi-billion dollar dope industry. All the blood and evil therein boils down to this: For the love of money, corruption and supreme power, the drug war might never end.
References: (1) CNN News (2) AP News (3) U.S. State Department Press Release on Mexico Drug Cartel Violence.
Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org