Where to begin?…
– By Rick Hepting
March 2, 2009
For background, I run a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the most popular posts lately have been in reference to fears of the “dangers” of traveling and living in Mexico.
I live in Puerto Vallarta permanently and have for three years. Before that I visited Vallarta many times and was a bit of of a snow bird, coming and going with the seasons. I have traveled in many parts of Mexico, as well as South East Asia, the US and Europe.
I’m not a normal tourist by any measure, and I frequent many parts of this town that most tourists would never consider visiting and, certainly, no tourist guide would ever recommend. I live in a barrio, of sorts, far from the gringo enclaves and condo developments. And I don’t blend: I’m an old gringo with red hair, blue eyes and freckles.
The American and Canadian media have been painting Mexico with a broad brush of danger and fear: Heads rolling into nightclubs, police being gunned down in their driveways, tourists being knifed in their condos, etc. Mexico is now being compared to Middle East war zones by US Pentagon spokesmen.
Supposedly, 6000 people have been killed in the “drug war” here last year (2008). I say “supposedly” because this figure discounts the people normally killed in those cosmopolitan areas and supposes that the cause and motives are the same in all of these deaths. It’s a lot of deaths.
- I have had a friend here mugged at 3 am when he was walking home drunk from a night of partying. He was beaten and kicked when he didn’t let go of his camera bag.
- I know of another person who challenged a burglar in his condo (there because the balcony door had been left open), and he was killed when the burglar picked up a kitchen knife to try to get away.
- There is a report of a gay man who was given a “date rape” drug in a strip bar and then robbed and beaten. Details are sketchy on this instance, but you get the picture.
- A transsexual was killed a year ago when she had an argument with a trick over payment (or so the street story goes…).
- A young man was killed almost 2 years ago when he withdrew thousands of dollars from a bank and fought to keep it as he was being robbed.
These are all real stories and all horrible and all things that could happen anywhere. I know. I have lived in places, like Oakland, California, where life was described by everyone as a “war zone.”
To some, this statement of perspective and universality is a deflection from the “dangers of Mexico” that are now being portrayed nightly on all major US and Canadian media outlets.
To others, this is the reality of anyone who has any life experience in any place in the world. I don’t believe that I left any major “crime” involving tourists out here in the last several years.
So why this media blitz about the “dangers” of Mexico? And, more importantly, why is any of this “sky is falling” propaganda rubbing off on Puerto Vallarta, which is definitely outside of any drug cartel battle grounds?
I don’t have a clue. The cynic in me says that it’s just a marketing ploy by the “buy at home” tourist industries of the North, but can big business really be that cold as to slander a whole nation to get a few more tourists to spend their extra $$ locally? I don’t think so, but I’m not one of those trying to get that tourist $$.
Should tourists be warned of the dangers here? Of course, but, then, they are already warned by any travel guide or travel agent in the world that they would talk to. The warnings are standard for any country:
- Don’t display ostentatious wealth inappropriately
- Don’t engage in illegal activity
- Keep aware of your surroundings.
Many people on vacation try to make over the locaton of that vacation to fit an idealized version of their homes, often forgetting that their homes are no where near any imagined ideal. This tendency is the concept behind the walled, AI (All Inclusive) compounds being constructed in Nuevo Vallarta, it is the concept behind the tacky, white bread, Taco Bells of life.
Mexico isn’t Taco Bell.
One last comment about the “Mexican Cartel Drug War.”
The question no one asks is what, exactly, are the “cartels” fighting over? It would seem that they are fighting over access to the huge drug market in the US. I’ve heard no other reasons.
If so, does that mean that the actual sale and distribution of drugs in the US is so easy and so readily accessible that outsiders are fighting each other simply to reach it? If so, the problem, as well as the solution, would seem to be in the US, not in Mexico.