U.S. State Department Heaps Further Pressure on Mexico’s Struggling Economy

By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET

With its vibrant, colourful street life, rich culture, sunny climes, white-sand beaches, and succulent, spicy food, Mexico is – or at least should be – a perfect holiday destination. Yet these days, whenever I tell friends, family or colleagues back in Europe that I’m visiting Mexico, a hushed silence inevitably follows, as if I’d told them I were embarking on a week-long cultural tour of Syria, followed by a few days’ backpacking in the Afghan outback.

“What about narcos, violence, kidnappings, robberies?” they inevitably ask, as though that were all Mexico had to offer. You can hardly blame them: after all, that has been the dominant narrative of the last few years, packaged and sold in all its gory detail by our mainstream press. The inevitable result is that millions of foreign tourists have been discouraged from visiting the country out of fear of falling victim to crime. And millions, if not billions, of dollars have been lost along the way.

Mexican Tourism: An Essential Life Line Now Under Threat

For Mexico, a strong tourist sector is vital to its economy. According to one report, Mexico was the tenth most visited country on the planet in 2013. Its tourism industry is the third largest “official” (i.e. non-criminal) source of revenues, behind oil and remittances, accounting for close to 9% of GDP and providing more than 2.5 million domestic jobs.

In the last couple of years, the sector’s prospects have – or at least had – begun to brighten as the international media’s ever-simplistic narrative shifted 180 degrees from one of total despair to one of unprecedented hope. Instead of bloody corpses hogging the limelight, all the talk was of the new President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ambitious reform program to transform Mexico into a thriving, highly liberalised market economy.

For a while the new narrative worked. As the tragic fate of the frontline victims of Mexico’s ongoing War on Drugs was buried deep under glowing reports on Mexico’s economic renaissance, tourists began to return in droves. By the end of this year, approximately 28 million international tourists will have visited the country, a 15% surge on last year’s total.

However, much of that influx was registered before the disappearance of 43 students from the South Eastern region of Guerrero just over two months ago, which lit the spark to Mexico’s biggest political crisis of a generation. Once again the blood and gore is back left, right and centre. And if that’s not enough to put people off booking a seven-day, all-inclusive stay in Puerto Vallarta or Cancun, a recent spate of government travel warnings should do the trick.

Misleading Travel Alerts

In the past week the U.S. state department issued its latest travel alert, cautioning US citizens against visiting nine out of Mexico’s 31 states (Coahuila, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas) and advocating extreme security precautions when visiting a further 11 (Aguascalientes, Baja California, Chihuahua, Durango, Estado de México, Morelos, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Zacatecas).

Given that these 20 states represent over 60% of Mexican territory, including vital tourist regions such as Baja California and Jalisco, and U.S. visitors account for over half of Mexico’s entire tourist industry, this latest travel warning has the potential to exact a severe toll on a slowly recovering sector. For Mexico’s already debilitated economy the timing could not have been worse, coming on the heels of five-year price lows for Mexican crude oil (now trading at below $50), a plummeting peso, and a barely contained stampede out of Mexican bonds.

But it’s not just the U.S. that is warning against visiting parts of Mexico – Canada, the UK, Australia, and a host of other governments have issued similar travel alerts in recent months. And while these warnings may be steeped in nuance and caveats, most travelers have neither the time nor inclination to read between the lines. What they want is the gist, and in this case the gist could not be clearer: give Mexico as wide a berth as possible.

Fear and Ignorance

The result is widespread ignorance about the reality of traveling in Mexico. For example, most people I encounter here in Spain and the UK mistakenly believe that Mexico City is an extremely perilous place to visit. The reasoning is simple: as the capital city of a country invariably portrayed in the media as a hellhole of violence and instability, Mexico City must itself be a death trap for foreign visitors. The reality, as even USA Today reported in 2009, is that Mexico City is one of the safest regions to visit, with a murder rate (8 per 100,000 people) significantly lower than that of Washington D.C (21 per 100,000 people), a city that travelers feel relatively safe visiting and about which there is not a single official travel alert.

Indeed, the scale and scope of violence across Mexico has actually been on the decline since the turn of the century. “If you look at history, today we have fewer murders, both in raw numbers and rates,” Mario Arroyo, a researcher with the Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies, told USA Today.

According to the independent Prominix report, the assault rate in the U.S. is nearly 5 times greater than that of Mexico, although Mexico has a higher overall homicide rate. Even when factoring in independent estimates for unreported homicides, Mexico ranks 21st behind many popular vacation destinations. Places we often think of as idyllic Caribbean retreats such as St. Kitts & Nevis, Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Brazil have double, triple, or even quadruple the murder rates of Mexico. What’s more, Mexico’s famous vacation areas (Yucatan, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, Puerto Vallarta…) are even safer than the averaged statistics, and even safer still for tourists.

Even in those regions of Mexico that are dangerous, those who bear the brunt of the violence are local residents who fall victim to kidnappings or extortion or get caught in the crossfire between rival drug gangs. For tourists the risks of getting caught up in Mexico’s wave of criminality are negligible, especially when traveling in the non-border regions. According to the U.S. State Department’s own travel alert, the number of U.S. citizens reported as murdered in Mexico was 81 in 2013 and 85 in 2014 to date. As tragic or as avoidable as those deaths may have been, they represent a tiny proportion (0.0000015 %) of the 55 million-or-so Americans who cross the border each year.

That is not to say that Mexico is a risk-free destination – far from it – but rather that overseas travel is by its very nature an activity fraught with calculated risks. As I wrote in “Economic Lessons from a Mexican Taxi Driver”, whenever you visit a new city or country, there are certain unwritten codes of behaviour that, for the sake of personal safety, need observing. As the ancient adage goes, when in Rome, live as the Romans do.

However, by blowing up the potantial risks of traveling to Mexico, the State Department has done its southern neighbour a massive disservice at a time when what it most needs is international solidarity. If millions of Americans are ultimately put off crossing the Southern border, thousands of Mexican jobs could be at stake and an already struggling economy further destabilised. More to the point, if American travelers take the press and the U.S. State Department at their word, they risk missing out on one of the most beautiful, welcoming and culturally rich destinations the world has to offer. By Don Quijones

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  4 comments for “U.S. State Department Heaps Further Pressure on Mexico’s Struggling Economy

  1. maria Heavens says:

    Intentional efforts by State Dept, no doubt.
    Another part of the cabal plan…starve off the tourist dollars to create instability for the one world currency. Keep that terror plan going…CFR work in progress.

    • sam says:


      I am so glad that you understand what is taking place. Be careful who you share your knowledge with now though as the time is coming when they will lock you away for these thoughts.

      The US is the leader of the NWO. The sad thing is they get their money from US citizens. We actually are paying to soon be incarcerated.

      We read all of the same BS about Ecuador before we decided to leave the once great USA, forever. However – nothing could be further from the truth. The people are gentle and the cops are nice and still look like and treat you with respect like Andy of Mayberry. It is legal to grow your own food, ride on the beach, pass a cop, have a fire on the beach, we are not considered terrorists like the US government considers its population [there is No NDAA], and the list goes on and on. There is MORE freedom in Ecuador than there is in the USSA.

      Many people from this country have lived and or traveled to the US. And many ask about the government taking down the twin towers on 9-11 and asking why the people do not see the propaganda in the US.

  2. Orlando says:

    As a pilot, Mexico remains one of my favorite destinations, with Puerto Vallarta seven hours away from my home airport in the Los Angeles area. I can say definitively that I have never faced any difficulties traveling in Mexico. it is easier than Canada in almost all aspects of flight.
    I have always faced far more difficulties flying in the USA with a drug chase plane following me back home from Calexico and forcing a ‘hot’ stop on the runway at Torrance Airport a few years back. As a result, I tend to ignore travel warnings issued by my government. It’s just not a credible source of information, in my opinion.
    I think most international travelers are more likely to emulate my behavior than not. The current situation is economic in nature. I think the decline in Mexican tourism is due to the petrodollar economy where pricing is more first world and indeed less competitive. American tourists will not fall out of love with Mexico, its’ culture or its’ people, they may just not be able to afford it the way they used to.

  3. Mr. Reality says:

    I read a few years back that there was concern over Mexico’s tourism industry vastly overbuilding to the point that many destinations were having ever increasing vacant rooms in the resorts. Since then i have heard or read nothing.

    It would be interesting to see an article covering this situation because for a while now i have always wondered what the situation is in Mexico, especially with the current situation ie. oil and traveler angst.


    Mr. R.

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