Due to the overwhelming amount of negative publicity the country of Mexico has to endure because of the drug violence, it has become easy to overlook that there has been a decline in violent homicides over the past decade. This means that tourists in Mexico, as well as locals, may actually be safer than many believe. How can this be? The difference is the media. Today the U.S. media battles for ratings so newsworthy events filled with sex, drugs and violence take center stage.
With a population that exceeds 8.84 million people, it is interesting to know that Mexico City’s homicide rate today is about even with Los Angeles and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C., yet many vacationing Americans have decided to steer clear of Mexico. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, drug violence and the swine flu outbreak contributed to a 12.5% decline in air travel to Mexico by U.S. citizens in 2009.
Another fact that has become easy to overlook about the drug cartels is that they originated in Central and South America but have worked their base camps as far north to the U.S. as possible. Mexico, Colombia and Haiti are the only countries in the hemisphere subject to a U.S. government advisory warning travelers about violence, even though homicide rates in many Latin American countries are far higher.
As stated by the Public Safety Secretary, Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexico’s homicide rate has fallen steadily from of 17 per 100,000 people in 1997 to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities. In 2007 the national rate hit its lowest number of 10 per 100,000 people, according to government figures compiled by the Independent Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies.
By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil’s was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.
A very interesting number to look at is Mexico City’s rate, which was about 9 per 100,000 in 2008, while Washington, D.C. was more than 30 that year.
The violence, homicides and cruel assassinations, which fill the pages of our media, make us feel that there has been much more violence in Mexico since this war against drug trafficking began in 2006. Mexico’s reported violence is often more shocking than elsewhere in Latin America because powerful cartels go to extremes to intimidate their rivals and the government. Although bystanders sometimes get caught in the crossfire, the vast majority of victims are drug suspects. Mexico has the same problems with corrupt police, gang violence and poverty as other Latin American countries with higher homicide rates.
However, some believe the downward trend is attributed to a general improvement in Mexico’s quality of life. More Mexican nationals have joined the ranks of the middle class in the past two decades, while education levels and life expectancy have also risen.
Before traveling in any foreign land, tourists should always plan their trip and do plenty of research. Once abroad, stay away from seedy areas and places you normally wouldn’t visit back home.
The country of Mexico has so much to offer, be it ancient pyramids, exotic foods and culture, or it’s over 500 beautiful beaches.