Commentary | May 19, 2010

Don't Go to Mexico...Right Now

By 432 AT/FP Chief, 432d Wing Anti-Terrorism & Force Protection

Mexico is an amazing place. As far as I'm concerned, they have amazing cuisine. If I had to choose one type of food to eat for the rest of my life, I'd choose Mexican food. Mexico also has amazing history. The ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations were remarkably ahead of their time, and they left impressive stone pyramids and artifacts as a testament to their abilities. Most of all, the Mexican people are amazing. I've never encountered a friendlier or more welcoming population than during my travels to Mexico. That said, for those of you who are considering a vacation to our great neighbor to the south, I have two words for you: "don't go" ... right now.

Even though the country technically isn't at war, Mexico has been entrenched in one of the bloodiest and deadliest battles in its entire history since 2006. Violent drug cartels have been battling each other and government forces for control over lucrative drug (and human) smuggling corridors that transit Mexico between Central America and the U.S. To call these drug cartels violent is a horrible understatement ... terrorists would be a more appropriate description.

Since 2006, there have been more than 22,000 homicides related to the ongoing struggle. The word "homicide" is another horrible understatement. Most victims have been decapitated, mutilated, cut into parts, then dumped en masse alongside highways, inside vehicles, or in public venues (such as town squares and plazas). Unfortunately, many of these victims were killed for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- collateral damage, or a case of "leave no witnesses."

For 2009, there were twice as many violent homicides in the city of Juarez, which is located on the Mexican border across from El Paso, Texas then there were U.S. casualties during the entire Afghanistan campaign. To put this in perspective, in one year, one city in Mexico saw more fatalities than an entire country in a state of war saw in nearly ten years. During the last week of April 2010, this same city had a three-day period where more than 50 people were killed, bringing their total number of homicides to 840 since January 2010. By comparison, for all of 2009, there were only 141 homicides for all of Clark County, Nevada, even though Las Vegas has more than twice the population (not including the approximately 34 million tourists who visit Las Vegas every year).

This problem would be easier if the majority of the violent crime was contained to a specific area, but unfortunately, it isn't. No province has been immune to this violence. Even popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Ensenada have seen a significant increase in homicides and violent crime over the past few years. Cancun has recently had a number of violent decapitations, and kidnappings and rapes are becoming more commonplace than in previous years.

Senior leadership has been paying close attention to the situation in Mexico, and for that reason, both 12th Air Force and U.S. Northern Command have issued respective travel restrictions to Mexico. Additionally, the 432d Wing commander has issued a policy letter strongly discouraging any unofficial travel to Mexico until further notice. Unfortunately, the message doesn't seem to be getting across, and
Airmen of all ranks continue to be lured to Mexico by the rock-bottom deals on vacation packages and cruises.

Airmen who fall under 12th Air Force who still desire to travel anywhere in Mexico (except for those areas considered off-limits) must complete a 12 AF Mexico Travel Notification Statement. Travel to Mexico also requires pre-departure briefings from your respective Force Protection office and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations prior to departure.

The 12 AF Mexico Travel Notification Statement should be submitted for wing commander approval, typically no later than 30 days prior to departure.

Also, before you go, I strongly urge you to visit http://travel.state.gov to have a look at the most current Travel Warning issued by the Department of State. But more than anything, if you're still in the "just dreaming" stage of your vacation planning, please consider traveling somewhere safer until the situation in Mexico calms down. Is it worth risking your life to save a few hundred dollars on a vacation?