U.S. Travel Advisories?

The news is horrifying. Night after night and day after day, the stories and images convey the violence. A daylight shooting on a tourist strip, the slaughter of innocent young children and mass killings in public places all are the stuff Mexican media feed to their consumers. But increasingly, the stories are about events in the United States and not at home.

“More shootouts in the U.S.,” proclaimed a teaser on Televisa. On a recent newscast, announcer Joaquin Lopez-Doriga reported that 1,800 people had been killed by gun violence in the U.S. during the previous two months. “The numbers, undoubtedly, could be higher,” Lopez-Doriga added.

In both print and electronically, Mexican media have given ample coverage to Newtown, ex-cop Chris Dorner’s southern California killing spree, 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego’s murderous rampage in Albuquerque, and more. “For the umpteenth time,” led off a news announcer on a recent edition of Mexico’s TVCN news, before digging into February’s  Las Vegas strip shooting that left two innocent passerby in a taxi dead.

If current trends continue, it should come as no surprise if the Mexican media and government begin to issue broader advisories to their citizens traveling to the United States. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously issued travel alerts for Arizona and Alabama after the two states passed anti-immigrant legislation.

On this side of the border, the U.S. Department of State posts regular travel advisories for Mexico largely related to drug-fanned violence. Following Mexican criticisms that the warnings painted a huge country with a broad brush and were impairing tourism, the Mexico travel advisories have become more geographically pointed.

The latest U.S warnings, dated November 2012 and broken down state-by-state in six detailed pages, make distinctions between areas generally considered safe and places not so secure. In the case of Acapulco, a big city rated as having the world’s second highest homicide rate per 100,000 people in 2012, the U.S. government advised its citizens to stick to the Costera tourist zone and avoid going more than two blocks away from the strip. In other words, skip most of the city.

One might imagine how Mexican travel advisories for the U.S would read. The border state of New Mexico is a prime candidate for such an alert. Situated next door to the Mexican Republic, the Land of Enchantment toots its cultural, historical and geographical assets as must-sees for both national and international visitors. The Santa Fe Indian Market, the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival and the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow are just a few of the events and sites that draw people from the world over.

But contemporary New Mexico, especially its big city of Albuquerque, is also a troubled place. From November 2011 to November 2012, the Duke City achieved the distinction of being the nation’s number one city for job loss, with 3,900 positions vanished in the wind. New Mexico continues to grapple with historic problems of drug addiction, poverty and crime. Corruption riddles institutions. Two out-of-town police chiefs who recently visited Santa Fe received a “welcome” when they discovered their parked vehicle had been burgled.

Regularly, Albuquerque schools are placed on lock-downs because of nearby incidents or bomb threats. High-speed police chases are fairly frequent, and Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 are routinely clogged because of accidents caused by reckless drivers. Recently, female students at the University of New Mexico were warned to be on the alert for gropers.

In a big sense, the hit cable program “Breaking Bad” about the teacher-turned-meth maker couldn’t have found a more perfect filming location than Albuquerque. Yet instead of introspection, the series inspired crass opportunism by local profiteers selling blue crystal candy and promoting “Breaking Bad” tours.

How might a precise Mexican travel alert of New Mexico and Albuquerque read? “Stay safely within Old Town and other tourist zones but avoid everywhere else?”

Of course, New Mexico is just one of many challenged places in the United States.  Given the geographic scope and depth of violence in this country, any future travel advisory for the U.S. surely would be a lengthy one.

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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