March 10, 2009

U.S. State Department Issues Travel Alert, Warns Against Drug Violence in Mexico

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Despite warnings issued throughout the nation about the increased bloodshed and chaos in Mexico, students who plan to travel there over spring break are confident that the use of common sense will keep them safe.
On Feb. 20, the U.S. State Department released a warning to American travelers concerning the recent increase in drug-related violence in Mexico and its surrounding U.S. borders. Universities across the nation, including Cornell, have also released warnings to their students about the potential dangers of this popular spring break destination and urged students to exercise extreme caution.
On March 5, Susan Murphy, vice president for student and academic services, and Kent Hubbell, dean of students, sent out a University-wide e-mail to all Cornell students warning them about the recently issued travel alert: “Cornell students traveling to Mexico for spring break should be aware that the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens traveling to that country.”
Director of C.U. Abroad, Richard Gaulton stated in an email: “… travel during spring break by Cornell students, who are after all adults, is not a [U]niversity responsibility. Nevertheless … Cornell would urge all students to inform themselves about conditions in the places they plan to visit and to exercise caution wherever they travel during breaks, whether in the U.S. or abroad.”
According to the U.S. State Department, most of the violence occurs in northern Mexico near the U.S. border, such as the bordering city of Ciudad Juarez. More than 1,000 people have died in the past two months due to the drug wars, as drug cartels battle themselves and government forces in drug trafficking, the Associated Press reported. Although the violence is not directed towards tourists and other civilians, the danger remains prevalent as hundreds have been injured and killed from crossfire, according to the AP.
Further south of the border, popular spring break destinations such as Cancun and Acapulco have been subject to violence as well. The crimes, however, are not directly related to the drug wars surrounding the border. Even so, around many of the 100,000 American students who travel to Mexico over spring break are arrested each year, mostly due to irresponsible behavior with alcohol, according to the State Department.
Despite warnings, students are not dissuaded from going south to the warmth of Mexico.
“I really don’t think it’s going to affect my trip that much because I use common sense wherever I go,” said Ashley Acosta ’12, who plans to travel to Cancun with some friends. “There’s danger everywhere, but that doesn’t mean I should be afraid to go outside.”
“I guess maybe I’m a little worried about the trip,” said Thomas Bertrand ’12 from Arizona State University. “But I think I’m smart enough to stay away from certain places and stay near our hotel.”
Along with several other students enrolled in International Agriculture and Rural Development 6010, Jordan Cole ’09, spent two weeks of his winter break in Mexico. During the day, class was conducted as usual; but at night, students were free to explore markets and nightclubs unsupervised. Cole explained that he never felt it was dangerous, and he felt safe on the streets.
“It’s because I was with a group of people that I trusted,” Cole said. “We used common sense. Even if I traveled by myself or with just a small group of friends, I would have used the same common sense and would have felt just as safe.”
Furthermore, Robert Blake, director of Latin American studies and one of the supervisors of the field course, asserted that the safety of students also depended on their specific destination.
“I’m assuming that our students are not going to the places where the violence is occurring right now,” Blake said. “Mexico has done a very good job of taking care of its tourists. They have invested well in the tourist cities’ infrastructure. I would not be concerned [with the students’ overall safety over spring break in Mexico], but of course, I would advise everyone to get information and updates on what is going on in the specific place they are traveling to.”
In the travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department, travelers are advised against displaying a large amount of money or valuables, traveling to locations where prostitution and drug-dealing are prevalent, traveling at night, or traveling alone.
A prominent student travel organization reiterated the same advice.
“The travel alerts issued by the U.S. government are largely for the area around the U.S.-Mexico border, which is quite far from the tourist areas that many students are traveling to for spring break. We are advising any students who are considering driving through or vacationing in the U.S.-Mexico border region to consider alternatives,” Patrick Evans, STA Travel’s Marketing Communications Director, stated in an e-mail.
Evans worked with Erin Weed, founder of, to compile a list of safety advice. These advice include drinking responsibly, partying responsibly, staying with a group of friends, and leaving an itinerary and identification materials with family members or friends.
In the e-mail, Weed stated: “Spring break can be a great experience for students if they are careful to consider their surroundings and make sure to practice common sense. As long as students act responsibly and carefully, they should have a great spring break.”
In addition, both Blake and Cole emphasized that Mexico’s tourist hotspots, as well as the destination of Cornell’s field trip are usually very safe, as opposed to the tumultuous northern parts of Mexico.
“It’s terrible that this has happened,” Cole said. “A small portion of the population is bringing such a negative image to Mexico. I believe that most of them are honest, friendly, and hospitable people.”