Mass kidnappings and the discovery of mass graves in the Mexican State of Guerrero, a prime tourist destination on the Pacific coast, forced the U.S. Department of State to update its Mexico Travel Warning. The new warning, issued on October 10, calls on Americans to “defer non-essential travel to all parts” of Guerrero, except for the cities of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Taxco and the caves at Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, where visitors area advised to “exercise caution.”
The State Department does not say what prompted the update from its previous advisory issued August 15, just two months ago. But it is a good guess that it was caused by hightened security concerns for Americans tourists in Guerrero, a preferred place for tourists that is rapidly becoming ungovernable. According to the Mexican government, Guerrero was the most violent state in 2013, with 2,087 homicides and 207 reported cases of kidnapping.
The State Department warning asks Americans to avoid traveling on highways, except for one toll road, to be used only during daylight hours. When traveling to the beach resort of Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, the State Department recommends flying. It also recommends limiting lodging to Acapulco’s “hotel zone” and to remain within the tourists areas.
On a less alarming note, the Travel Warning says that here is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico “generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime” that exist in other regions.
Nearly 70 kidnappings of U.S. citizens were reported to the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Mexico between January and June of 2014, not a very high number given that millions of Americans visit Mexico every year.
Following the mass disappearance of students in Guerrero, which has exposed how deep state-sponsored violence and corruption runs, Guerrero has been making headlines around the world. In Iguala–a historic town with a population of 110,000, located 120 miles South of Mexico City–43 students teachers were allegedly taken by corrupt local police after a day of protest. The students, some as young as 17 years old, were last seen being pushed into police vans on September 26th. It is suspected they were massacred by criminal gangs.
The students attended a local teacher training college, the only academic option for young people in Guerrero’s impoverished rural communities, with a history of left-wing activism.
Following leads provided by detained suspects, Mexican authorities found several clandestine mass graves in the outskirts of Iguala. But the bodies were so decomposed and burned that Mexico’s Attorney General José Murillo Karam said it would take months for DNA testing to determine if they are the missing students.
Both the Mayor of Iguala José Luis Abarca, and his wife, members of the leftist PRD Party, are suspected of being connected to the alleged killings. They have been accused in media reports of having links to organized crime. Their whereabouts is unknown.
President Enrique Peña Nieto described the incident as “painful and unacceptable.” He promised there will be “no impunity.”
The students’ disappearance set off a wave of outrage across Mexico and abroad where people and NGOs have taken to the streets to demand Peña Nieto produce the students alive. There has also been a diplomatic outcry, with the UN, the European Union, the U.S. government and the Organization of American States calling for a full and impartial investigation.
Analysts believe that the events in Guerrero have snowballed into becoming Peña’s Nieto most serious human rights crisis. When he took office in 2012 he promise to change the perception of Mexico as violent and corrupt.
Up until now, Peña Nieto has been acclaimed by the world community for his ambitious agenda of daring economic reforms, but as Jude Webber wrote in The Financial Times, the students tragedy, plus the massacre of 22 people allegedly by the army in the State of Mexico in June, “show how Mexico’s old stereotypes of crime, corruption and cronyism are valid as ever.”
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