Mexico has an image problem. It has long been internal — with newspaper headlines and nightly news broadcasting the menacing notes, severed heads, and bullet-riddled bodies that are the byproducts of a deadly drug war raging across the country.
But now Mexico's vicious reputation has gone international.
In the past week, international newscasts have focused on protests along the US-Mexican border against soldiers battling drug gangs, which officials say were organized by drug gangs themselves. Then a chilling note left for the police chief of Ciudad Ju??rez, Mexico's most violent city, made headlines around the globe: Step down, it stated, or one police officer will be killed every two days.
Hours later, Roberto Orduna resigned after a police officer and jail guard were murdered and left with signs on their bodies that said more people would be killed until he stepped down.
Now the US State Department has issued a new travel advisory, warning of "large firefights" across the country.
"Recent Mexican Army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades," it reads.
The Feb. 20 State Department travel advisory does indeed contain some hairy details...
Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. The U.S. Mission in Mexico currently restricts non-essential travel to the state of Durango and all parts of the state of Coahuila south of Mexican Highways 25 and 22 and the Alamos River for U.S. government employees assigned to Mexico. This restriction was implemented in light of the recent increase in assaults, murders, and kidnappings in those two states. The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.
A number of areas along the border are experiencing rapid growth in the rates of many types of crime. Robberies, homicides, petty thefts, and carjackings have all increased over the last year across Mexico generally, with notable spikes in Tijuana and northern Baja California. Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales are among the cities which have recently experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues. Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.
The situation in Ciudad Juarez is of special concern. Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed in the city since January 2008. Additionally, this city of 1.6 million people experienced more than 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008. U.S. citizens should pay close attention to their surroundings while traveling in Ciudad Juarez, avoid isolated locations during late night and early morning hours, and remain alert to news reports. A recent series of muggings near the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez targeted applicants for U.S. visas. Visa and other service seekers visiting the Consulate are encouraged to make arrangements to pay for those services using a non-cash method.
"Tarnished image" — I guess so!
Michael Ramirez (of Investors Business Daily) drew a descriptive cartoon.