Mexico Safety and Security - The Mexicali Experience
This blog style report is for the area of Mexicali. If you want a report from Ensenada or Tijuana, click on the links:
From February 12th to the 15th, 35 APU students, 7 staff members and I were in Mexicali training and organizing for our upcoming Easter events. I thought I would share the experience, firsthand, to help give proper balance to the stories you may have heard recently.
We drove at all times of the day (including some midnight hours) and in all sorts of areas. We were visiting ministry sites, making purchases and running errands; regardless of where we were and what type of Mexican people were there, we saw absolutely no sign of any activity related to drug cartels, shootouts, or violence. Everything looked just as it did last year, and just as it did when I first went in 1998... but with newer buildings and different colored houses, of course! We drove to familiar and unfamiliar places, main streets and back streets and still, nothing "dangerous" or "risky" stood out. I talked to a leader of an orphanage and one of our local Mexican pastors and they had not seen or noticed anything in the city either.
One of my jobs in the Mexico Outreach office has been tracking nearly all stories and reports of a Mexican Drug War. I've been combing U.S. websites, talking with people both in and outside of Mexico, reflecting along with my coworkers the biblical and spiritual perspectives of the ministry we do, compiling over 100 pages and spending too many hours analyzing everything. All this to say, I feel we are informed and am confident that the situation is constantly being monitored.
I think this weekend in Mexico and my observations reminded me that the media has a way of sensationalizing stories to the ump-teenth degree. An example of this is a recent news report where a reporter stared very seriously in to the camera and said: "200 Americans have died in Mexico...". Naturally, this caught my attention! I thought, how can the media be so misleading? So, just to be sure, I checked out their sources, and found that the full statement should have actually been read as "200 Americans have died in Mexico...since 2004". It's misleading to make people think that 200 Americans have died in the last 6-9 months when, in reality, there has been an extremely minimal amount of incidences involving Americans. When they have existed, they are tied in with the drug cartels or military. I know that there is drug related violence in "isolated parts" of Mexico. It has actually left me in tears at times because of what the Mexican people have to deal with. It has also broken my heart knowing that people, in general, are more concerned about the abstract potential risks instead of praying for the Mexican people and their government trying to fight this.
We will pray for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will pray for and send aid to the flood victims of Hurricane Katrina, but for some odd reason, Mexico is not a burden on our hearts.
As a former youth pastor, I keenly understand the dynamics of working with parents who are naturally concerned about the possibility of putting their youth in harms way. I want you to know that I write this not to convict or pressure or criticize any person or church, but to simply express that the churches and people in Mexico are anxious for our partnership and for our prayers. In the season they are in, they need our support and love, and if I can be bold enough to say, our presence down there in Mexico. My recent time in Mexico - what I saw with my eyes, heard with my ears, and experienced by being there, showed something very different than what news reports reflect.
It reminded me of one last contrast: many reports are meant to target the millions of people that vacation and spring break (drinking, clubbing, partying) in Mexico. Their target audience is not people wanting to spread the Gospel. Had it been, perhaps the media would not sensationalize things as they do, or at the very least they would tell the bigger story. The story of a country similar to our own, where violence exists, but can be avoided by good judgment and common sense. I am more wary of travelling though certain areas of Detroit or Los Angeles than I am of Mexicali or Ensenada.
I hope this has been helpful to you churches and leaders and an encouragement to continue faithfully in the Lord Jesus Christ, taking your lead from Him. We value your work and passion.
Sr Coordinator of Church Relations
Tourists proceed with caution - Violence hasn't targeted visitors from U.S.
By Sandra Dibble <http://www3.signonsandiego.com/staff/sandra-dibble/ <http://www3.signonsandiego.com/staff/sandra-dibble/> > UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER 2:00 a.m. January 4, 2009
Is it safe to visit the Tijuana region? There is no simple, single answer. Much like travel anywhere in the world, it depends on who you are, where you're going, and what you're doing. U.S. visitors have been staying away from Tijuana and other border areas, fearful they could get caught up in the rise in violence and kidnappings. Yet tourists are not being targeted, and major incidents in recent months have largely bypassed tourist areas.
The U.S. State Department Travel Alert for Mexico recommends caution when visiting the country, but points out that millions of U.S. citizens do so safely each year. It often boils down to an individual's own assessment. A veteran traveler who speaks fluent Spanish and has numerous contacts in Mexico might well take a different approach than a first-time visitor.
“Each situation is different,” said Martha J. Haas, chief of consular services at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. “Each person needs to evaluate their own individual circumstances.” Shootouts in public areas have heightened fears that stray bullets could strike bystanders, and innocent victims have been killed in recent months. But as drug gangs fight for control of key drug routes, the great majority of victims this year have been linked to organized crime. Some U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been targeted by kidnapping groups in Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, but they are not U.S. tourists or members of the large U.S. expatriate community. According to the FBI, these victims are kidnapped while conducting business or visiting family in the area.
And even as overall violent crime has increased, U.S. consular officials report a decline in crimes against U.S. visitors in the Baja California region. A series of attacks by groups of armed gunmen on surfers and other visitors traveling the coastal areas in 2007 has ceased in recent months, according to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. Reports of police extortion of U.S. tourists in Tijuana and Rosarito Beach have declined dramatically, officials say; governments have taken steps to secure tourist areas, but the steep drop in tourism could be another factor.