By Deborah Bonello, Special to The Times
April 16, 2008
MEXICO CITY -- U.S. State Department officials have issued a travel alert prompted by drug violence in the north of Mexico, warning that victims have included foreign visitors and residents.
American visitors are advised to be especially alert about their safety in the border region, and to avoid areas where there are high levels of drug dealing and prostitution.
"Violent criminal activity fueled by a war between criminal organizations struggling for control of the lucrative narcotics trade continues along the U.S.-Mexico border," said the warning, dated Monday. "Attacks are aimed primarily at members of drug-trafficking organizations, Mexican police forces, criminal justice officials and journalists. However, foreign visitors and residents, including Americans, have been among the victims of homicides and kidnappings in the border region."
American Ambassador Antonio O. Garza Jr. said in a statement that the alert reflected the current reality in Mexico: "These conditions are widely known here in Mexico from watching the news every day, but many tourists are simply not as aware of what goes on in other countries as they are in their own."
Garza's alerts in the past have infuriated politicians and the press in Mexico. But violence on the border has increased, especially in recent months, after a military campaign against the drug lords was launched 15 months ago by President Felipe Calderon.
The State Department warning says: "In its effort to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed military troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens are urged to cooperate with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways."
In February, The Times reported that Tijuana was a ghost of its former self. At the time, more than 50 people had been killed in the onetime party town since the beginning of the year.
Other reports have counted scores of drug-related slayings so far this year in another border town, Ciudad Juarez. Mexico's drug wars killed more than 2,500 people in 2007.
Calderon's campaign appears to have had some effect. A recent spate of grisly killings illustrates organized crime's fear of public cooperation with police, experts and media reports say.
Hoping to intimidate potential informants, the killers have tortured many victims and left some with signs hanging from their necks or taped to their bodies.
"This is how all finger-pointers will finish up," said one message hanging from a body this month, according to Tijuana's Frontera newspaper.