Friday, April 16, 2010

Public Safety in Mexico

Almost every day our newspapers carry stories about the drug-inspired violence in Mexico, especially along the border with the U.S. A friend just told me that her husband refuses to visit their time-share in Mazatlan this summer because of these reports. Surely, the Mexican tourist industry must be suffering.

Most recently it was reported that two of the established drug cartels have formed an alliance against the infamous "Zetas" in the state of Tamaulipas. This state lies along the Rio Grande river--stretching from Nuevo Laredo to Reynosa and Matamoros (across the river from Brownsville). Is this good or bad news?

Initially, the "Zetas" were a group of Mexican Air Force commandos who defected to the local drug runners, along with their heavy weapons and sophisticated surveillance equipment, and quickly earned a reputation for being the most vicious pistoleros in Mexico. Because of the ensuring violence, the Mexican middle-class in most of these cities moved across the border into Texas. However, observers of the drug wars in Mexico may actually think that the alliance against the Zetas will help to stablize matters along the border.

For twenty-three years or longer, Americans have crossed this border at Laredo without incident to go racing in Mexico. Except for one or two years, the race ended into Nuevo Laredo, again, without incident. (This year the event will end in Zacatecas, which is 426 miles southwest of Nuevo Laredo.)

Last month we traveled from El Paso, Texas, 235 miles down to Chihuahua City to participate in Chihuahua Express, and then raced around the state for neary 800 miles. There was no sign of violence. We did avoid going through the city of Ciudad Juarez, perhaps the most troubled place in Mexico, on the way down, but during four days in Chihuahua City, we saw no trouble. The race route, moreover, was lined by over 240 federal, state, local, and auxilary police.

It is safe to go to Mexico? Everyone should read the most recent advisories from the U.S. State Department. These reports repeat what I have been advising for years: most of Mexico is safe for tourists and especially racers, but certain rules should be followed: like, do not drive at night. Travel in groups. Avoid the red-light districts, dark streets in sketchy neighborhoods, and places where drugs are sold.

I certainly plan to return to Mexico in October for the Carrera for the 13th time. In fact, my wife and I are building a home in San Miguel de Allende--down in central Mexico, something we would not do if we did not feel safe down there.

Please do not let the constant reports of bad news from Mexico prevent you from enjoying the racing, people, cities, landscape, and culture of this beautiful country. Sadly, our newspapers hardly ever report the good news.....but there is plenty.

La Carrera Panamericana is schedule for Oct. 22-28. The Coyote Convoy will gather in Laredo, Texas on Oct. 15 for the trip across the border the next day and then down to the start of the race in Tuxtla Gutierrez. Join us.