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As presidents meet, guarded U.S. words on Mexican travel safety

November 28, 2012|By Christopher Reynolds
  • The Mexican state of Yucatan, which includes the yellow town of Izamal, ranks among the nation's safest states, with few or no drug-war deaths.
The Mexican state of Yucatan, which includes the yellow town of Izamal,… (Christopher Reynolds /…)

Is Mexico getting safer?

Every prudent southbound traveler wants to know, and it’s an especially tricky question this week, since Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto met Tuesday with President Obama in Washington.

One Los Angeles Times article Tuesday notes that Mexico’s president-elect (who takes office Saturday) seems to be curtailing the size and clout of the federal police, who have played a major role in that country’s war with drug cartels over the last six years. As Times correspondent Tracy Wilkinson notes, the federal police received a good chunk of the $1.9 billion that the U.S. government has given Mexico for the drug war since 2006, and the U.S. has helped train about 7,000 police investigators in academies it set up in San Luis Potosi and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has issued a new warning on the country that’s full of cautionary words about border states despite government tallies showing that American homicide deaths in Mexico are slowing. As Times staff writer Hugo Martin reports, the Nov. 20 state-by-state assessment urges travelers to "defer nonessential travel" to four of Mexico's 31 states — Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas. The department also warns tourists to avoid unnecessary travel to remote towns and border areas in 11 other states, mostly in the northern section of Mexico. The warning reported that at least 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in the first half of 2012, compared with at least 113 in all of 2011.

One notable recent death: The Associated Press reports that on Saturday, Sinaloa authorities found the body of a 20-year-old state beauty queen who apparently was killed in a gun battle between soldiers and a group of alleged drug traffickers she was traveling with. The woman, Maria Susana Flores Gamez, was found lying near an assault rifle on a rural road.

"She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout," state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera told the A.P.

As for the total number of drug-war related deaths throughout Mexico, those numbers, too, have been falling this year. For several years, the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute has been tallying and analyzing drug-war killing accounts by the Mexican news organization Reforma. In the institute’s most recent monthly “Justice in Mexico” report, researchers counted 8,352 drug cartel-related killings between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26 – which is a decline of 18% from the year before. That’s the first such decline since Reforma started counting these deaths in 2006.

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