Contrary to what you may have read in Fox News and other U.S. media, the State Department, to some extent, has softened its travel advisory to Mexico, putting the country at the same level of dangerousness as Spain, France and the United Kingdom.
That’s not the impression you may get from reading the screaming headlines in the aftermath of the State Department’s Jan. 10 announcement of its newly revised travel advisory system.
“U.S. slaps highest level ‘do not travel' warning on five Mexican states,” read the headline on the Fox News website. The story started out saying that, “The State Department unveiled a revamped travel warning system Wednesday, giving five Mexican states the sternest ‘do not travel' advisory alongside war-torn nations like Syria, Yemen and Somalia.”
But Fox News may have been carried away by its Mexico-bashing habit, and other media may have not taken the time to read the State Department document closely.
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Under the new guidelines, the State Department divides countries in four categories, depending on the risks they present to foreign visitors. Level 1 is “Exercise normal precautions;” Level 2 is “Exercise increased caution;” Level 3 is “Reconsider travel” and Level 4 is “Do not travel.”
And – surprise – Mexico is placed in Level 2, in the same category as other big U.S. travel destinations such as France, Spain, the U.K, Germany, Belgium, and Denmark.
Among the lucky countries in Level 1, the safest category, are Argentina, Canada, Chile, Finland and Japan.
Granted, five Mexican states – Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero – are placed in the “Do not travel” category. These are the Mexican states with the most drug-related crime waves.
But what most of the stories in the U.S. media don’t tell you is that the fine print of the new State Department advisory exempts some of the biggest travel destinations within these five states – the cities of Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Chapala and Ajijic – from the “do not travel” recommendation.
What’s more important, the new State Department travel advisory does not discourage Americans from traveling to Cancun, Los Cabos and Mexico City, by far the biggest destinations for the 35 million foreign tourists visiting Mexico every year. Last year, the State Department’s travel advisory had warned Americans against going to Cancun and Los Cabos.
To my surprise, despite the alarming headlines in many U.S. media, Mexico’s Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid, was optimistic about the impact of the State Department’s new guidelines.
“I’m happy. It’s much better than the previous one,” De La Madrid told me, referring to the August 2017 State Department advisory. “Our main foreign tourism destinations, such as Cancun in the Quintana Roo state, Los Cabos in Baja California Sur and Mexico City, are now at the same level as Spain or France.”
State Department spokesman Virgil Carstens told me that “our overall advice is that Mexico is a Level 2 country.” He added that within Mexico, there are five states labeled as Level 4, which were already labeled under the previous system as “prohibited” or “defer non-essential travel” states.
To be sure, Mexico has a serious crime problem. Last year say a record number of murders in the country, surpassing the 27,000 homicides it had reported in 2011, according to official figures. Still, Mexico’s most crime-ridden places are not in tourism destinations. In fact, many major U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Detroit and Washington D.C., have much higher murder rates than Cancun or Los Cabos.
The only thing I would add to the new State Department advisory system is that it should include the United States on its list, and give it a Level 2 “exercise increase caution” label.
The chance of getting hurt in a crossfire among drug gangs in Mexico may be just as high as that of being hit by a gunman in the United States, like the lunatic with 47 guns who killed 58 people in Las Vegas or the man who shot 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016. Let’s be honest, the United States is a Level 2 country, just like Mexico.