Monday, January 31, 2011

The War Zone
By Michael

On Monday, January 17, a 25-year-old Mexican man on a motorcycle rode down a trafficked Mazatlan street. He was apparently directly involved or related to parties of the Mexican drug war. Accordingly, another party to the same war, and different side, lay in wait and sprayed the rider with bullets from an AK-47. At least one of the bullets hit the young rider and killed him. Another of the bullets destroyed the knee of an innocent bystander, 69-year-old Canadian tourist Mike DiLorenzo, walking on the sidewalk with his wife.

Cartel territory
I've known about the Mexican drug war since President Calderon declared it. I've known about the high number of murders--many gruesome attacks in public places--attributed to this war. Yet I've not felt that Mexico has turned into a war zone. I did not hesitate to travel to Puerto Vallarta with Eleanor in May 2010 to check out Del Viento (in fact, the biggest danger we faced on that trip was from los mapaches, but we survived that incident). Windy and her mom enjoyed a pleasant week in Mexico in December.

I know that my perceptions are not aligned with most Americans. Friends of ours who love and know Mexico have stopped travelling there. People have questioned the wisdom of our plans to drive through Mexico on our way to Del Viento this summer. Granted there are whole cities in Mexico that I would not visit at this time, because of the violence associated with the drug war. But there are also parts of the world where I would not sail, because of incidences of piracy. Mexico is a big place.
Why the disparity of perceptions?
I think my lack of fear in visiting Mexico stems from my information sources.
  • It's been almost 20 years since my home life included cable or broadcast television. But because I have access to the Internet (New York Times, Google News, etc.) throughout each day, I know what is going on. I am as current as any CNN junkie. But my choice of news media sources limits my exposure to video of beheaded bodies and Policia SUVs ablaze (they are not played over and over in the course of a single news report, and then played again days later to illustrate a general reference to the Mexican drug war). The accounts of Mexican drug-related violence I read tend to be longer and include more information and a tempered perspective, they are not abbreviated to accommodate the commercial timelines of television. Finally, the accounts I read are in my own voice, not the voice of a professional delivering practiced alarm.

  • I read the blogs of many cruisers living in Mexico (many of those with kids). They offer glimpses of their daily lives in Mexico, wandering the streets of Mazatlan and other coastal cities. They travel inland on buses and in rental cars. They are Americans and Canadians reporting from a nation that bears zero resemblance to the apocalyptic war zone depicted on the nightly news in cities across the U.S..
    12 hours ago, I read a blog post by cruisers on Just a Minute, a family of three and a golden lab, who have been in Mazatlan, all over town, for the past 8 weeks and loving it. Loving the city, loving the people, loving the experience. Loving it before Mike DiLorenzo was caught in the crossfire, loving it since. The crew aboard Whatcha Gonna Do are right now travelling inland, in and around Oaxaca. The pictures and stories they posted are inspiring. Along these lines, Latitude 38 publisher Richard Spindler offers his informed perspective here (several references, starting in the middle of the page) and here (search "drug" on this page).
  • I have close friends who are retired and who own a home and live full-time in La Paz. They are not worriers, but they are also prudent and informed. With regard to their personal safety, both report feeling safer in their adopted city than the Southern California beachfront community from which they moved.
I have no interest in trying to downplay the problems Mexico has been confronting over the past few years. It is bad (where it is happening) and could certainly escalate and spread. But I do resent the way those significant problems (as they are today) are presented to folks north of the border. I think that the televised news media in particular, dependent as it is on shocking video and hyperbole, is not accurately reflecting the scope, the focused impact, of the violence in Mexico. I think this broad-brush reporting is captivating viewers and selling commercials, while selling short the truth.
I resent this because I think the false perceptions this is creating among many folks north of the border, is having a devastating effect on the Mexican tourism industry. And that hurts ordinary Mexicans. I think that in most areas of Mexico (and particularly along the Pacific coast), Mexicans are more affected by decreased tourism than by the drug war. I think this real decrease in tourism is a byproduct of the American and Canadian media.
I spent much of yesterday reading online press concerning the situation. What struck me most was the disparity between a 4-day-old Associated Press (AP) report relating cruise ship lines' perspectives on Mazatlan, and the blog posts I read daily from cruisers in the same city.
AP reported that the Disney Wonder cruise ship cancelled its planned 27 Mazatlan port calls for 2011, dropping Mazatlan from its "Mexican Riviera Tour" and substituting an extra stop in Cabo San Lucas. Holland America Line cancelled a planned January 26 Mazatlan port call, substituting Manzanillo. As Carnival decides whether to scrap a planned February 2 Mazatlan call, its representative gives the clearest (though not real clear) reason for the change: "There have been some recent security incidents that that have made cruise lines concerned about the safety of their guests."
Are these Mazatlan port call cancellations in the wake of the DiLorenzo shooting, a direct result of the DiLorenzo shooting?
AP reports that Carnival is moving its 2,500-passenger Spirit to Australia in 2012, citing, "...increasing fears over traveling to Mexico."
The same AP article adds:
    The industry magazine Seatrade Insider quoted Mazatlan Port Director Alfonso Gil Diaz as saying the incidents causing concern were minor, such as one passenger whose necklace was snatched. "Mazatlan is very, very safe," the magazine quoted Gil Diaz as saying. "It's a shame because last year we had 526,000 passengers with no incidents ... This year there were three very minor things outside the terminal."
Oh, and what does DiLorenzo think of all this?

His local British Columbia news station reports that, "He says if he recovers fully, he has every intention on returning to his favourite vacation destination and possibly even buying a home there." In a more recent story, the station reports, "Mike still believes the shooting was a rare and random event and hopes it doesn't deter other people from traveling there."

But Mike, that ain't gonna sell commercials.


  1. I travel all over the world for work, to many places that are deemed "dangerous" by many Americans and the media, such as Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. If you read the state department travel warnings on these places you would never go! I have walked through a Favella in Rio and down the street alone in Mexico City at night. I have never been or felt threatened. I don't wear fancy clothes or jewelery and I don't do anything stupid like walking down unlit back allyways. Much of what we see and hear is an exaggeration and sensationalism. The simple fact is you still have more of a chance of being in a car accident in the USA than being killed in these places. If you use common sense and don't call attention to yourself, these place, while not without some risk, are certainly not the certain death and mayhem most Americans think they are.

  2. And...Watcha Gonna Do just posted about their arrival in Acapulco and the happy kid boats they found there...(

  3. Found your blog through Get Rich Slowly.

    I've been in Cancun for 5 years. Like you, I try to stay informed in the drug war since it affects the country I live in. I do get very frustrated with news sites, however, for making it seem like the entire country is full of violence.

    I'm out alone in the city during the day and at night frequently and I have never, ever had anything close to a problem. I always feel safe here, and I know that's the case in the vast majority of the country.


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