As eager colleges students from around the country prepare to leave school for spring break, many ask the question, where is the best place to go to have the most fun? For parents, the questions that are pondered and even discussed with their children as they prepare to leave are usually somewhat different. Many parents attempt and often stumble through those awkward conversations about the potential dangers of traveling abroad. Common parental concerns for their children on holiday cover the spectrum but often include discussions about avoiding the following: being arrested, impregnating or becoming impregnated by a new intoxicated friend whose name tends to escape recall, all the way down to the embarrassing impromptu left or right-cheeked tattoo. I think you know which cheeks I am talking about. Some of America’s spring breaking youngsters will fail to heed their parents’ well-intentioned advice and the ramifications will range from laughable spring break stories to parents getting late-night phone calls for the need of the family lawyer and a bail deposit. Even in these more unfortunate spring break scenarios, parents of American children expect their kids to return home, straighten-up, and get back to work or school.
The idea of an American citizen’s child being abducted, raped, tortured, shot, beheaded or otherwise murdered for the most part still remains outside the typical parent’s pre-vacation precautionary mindset. Unfortunately, an untimely death does potentially await traveling Americans on vacations such as spring break. What does that mean? It means that there is always of element of danger traveling as a tourist abroad. The American public still has fresh in their minds the case of 18-year-old Natalee Holloway, the young girl that went missing on May 30, 2005, during a chaperoned high school graduation trip in Aruba. Most viewers of this travel tragedy were likely to have been absorbed in the Holloway family drama, or the bizarre statements and actions of the suspect Joran van der Sloot. One of the important lessons almost lost within this national story was that all tourists when abroad are potential victims. The best that can be hoped for is that one maximizes the likelihood of survival with the same vigor that is put into plans for fun and entertainment. Then there is the subject of Mexico.
Compared to present dangers of Aruba, Mexico is nothing short of a war zone. Most Americans are aware of the massive influx of illegal aliens through the U.S. southern border and since September 11, 2001, a growing number of Americans have been attempting, largely in vain, to force the government to secure the nation’s porous southern border. To a greater extent the secure border argument has been surrounding the staggering economic cost to U.S. taxpayers from illegal immigration but Americans that live near, or have traveled to areas such as Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, Reynosa, Matamoros and Monterrey know those are places where Mexicans are slaughtered daily and where Americans can get caught in the crossfire. The U.S. Department of State reports that Americans have been trapped between firefights in areas such as Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima and have been unable to leave the area until hostilities have diminished. As reported by Lee Ferran of ABC News, the U.S. Embassy has recently been urging U.S. citizens to limit or avoid traveling in parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua. The Texas Department of Public Safety has echoed this sentiment for the simple reason that in those places, tourists’ safety cannot be guaranteed.
Despite the beauty and abundance of natural resources that exist for the tourist trade, traveling to Mexico is akin to playing Russian roulette with more bullet chambers full than empty. Here is an example: the State Department tells people that the Mexican military and police are currently fighting to control Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and that they have set up many checkpoints within the country and that traveling Americans should comply with officials at these checkpoints. The State Department’s website also explains that DTOs have also been known to wear military and police uniforms, have vehicles that resemble police cars and possess automatic weapons and grenades. These DTOs are said to be known to create false checkpoints, placing Americans at risk.
In 2009, the Houston Chronicle reported that over 200 Americans have been killed in Mexico since 2004. As Lise Olsen reported in the investigative piece, more non-military Americans died unnatural deaths in Mexico than in any other country from 2004 to 2009. The average was one dead American per week. If you turn on your television today you are bound to hear a Mexican official related in some way to the tourist trade assuring Americans they are safe at Mexico’s tourist locations. However, in 2009 CNN reported that in the well-known Mexican vacation spot Cancun the tortured body of Mauro Enrique Tello Quiñonez, the area’s top drug enforcement official, was found along with other dead bodies in the heavily visited tourist area. Over 100,000 American teens and young adults are reported to travel into Mexico yearly and they do so with a Mexican government that can neither control its criminal elements in the drug trade, nor safeguard tourists that are simply looking for some fun in the sun, and maybe a little bit more. American parents and their children alike should carefully contemplate whether or not taking holiday in Mexico is worth the heightened risk that it will surely offer this year’s tourists.
Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his Ph.D. in Sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books including the 2010 release “Oliver’s Tale: A Squirrel’s Story of Love, Courage, and Revolution.” Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association’s 2008, 2009 and 2010 award-winning radio program, Conscience of Kansas airing on KSDB Manhattan 91.9 FM, www.ibbetsonusa.com. For interviews or questions, please contact him at [email protected]