Latin America

The shadow CIA vs. Mexican Tourism

In a low blow to the Mexican tourism industry, a Texas-based global intelligence company, Stratfor, reported the presence of drug-trafficking related violence in important tourist destinations.

Nubia Piqueras Grosso

In a memorandum in early March, “Travel and Security Risks over Spring Break in Mexico,” Stratfor claims that the tourist destinations of Acapulco, Cozumel, Islas Mujeres, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan are permeated by drug violence, creating a risk for tourists. While there is no evidence that cartels are setting their sights on tourists, the increase in crime makes it more likely that tourists could find themselves in crossfire or be exposed to situations of violence.

“Organized crime uses commercial ships and fishing boats for transporting cocaine shipments from South America to Mexico, and many cartels depend on hotels and resorts for laundering drug money,” Stratfor said. However, this report contrasts with the official declaration of 2011 as “Year of Tourism in Mexico” and with the federal government’s goal of making the country the No. 5 tourist destination worldwide by 2018.

As a result, local governments recently asked the media to report objectively and in a balanced way about life in Mexico, and not to just sensationalize violence. According to statements by Gloria Guevara, secretary of the tourism industry, foreign and domestic tourism is expected to rise by 15 percent this spring; her prediction, however, is countered by business forecasts and the Stratfor warning.

In line with the predictions of U.S. specialists, the Texas Department of Public Safety recommended that the so-called “spring breakers” (students who are on vacation in the spring) should not travel to Mexico this season due to unsafe conditions. “While drug cartel violence is more serious in northern Mexico, it is also serious in other parts of Mexico,” said DPS director Steven C. McCraw.

The recommendation was in line with reports issued by Stratfor, which issues a weekly memorandum on violence in Mexico, described as “macabre” by Mexican political scientist Alfredo Jalife-Rahme, in his article, “Stratfor dictates Mexico’s geopolitical death.”

Stratfor is a private institution that employs former intelligence officials, described by Jalife-Rahme as “the shadow CIA.” Cancun is an important entry point for drugs from South America en route to the United States, and has a significant presence of the Los Zetas gang, according to Stratfor.

While Cozumel and Isla Mujeres are apparently not specifically used for drug trafficking, they are not exempt from violence associated with organized crime, because from 2009 to 2010, the number of executions in those areas doubled. Meanwhile, Acapulco is considered by the company as the best example of a high-level tourist destination that has become a battlefield, where three different gangs are fighting to control the city.

The strategic location of Puerto Vallarta is important for drug trafficking between South America and Asia, making it a transit point, according Stratfor, which also described the city of Mazatlan in Sinaloa as the tourist destination where violence was most persistent over the past year.

While U.S. authorities warned travelers of the danger of going to Mexico, legislators in the Mexican town of Chihuahua, near to the border, asked their northern neighbors to put a check on drug-running into Mexico, weapons used by the cartels. The real situation of increased insecurity and the U.S. campaign against Mexican tourism for reasons of competition could significantly affect the number of people from the United States, especially students, who travel there in the spring.

Pedro Haces, director of the Acapulco Association of Hotels and Tourist Companies, admitted that the violence was hurting tourism, and was afraid this spring could be the worst season in years, given that reservations were 85 percent below average. The Stratfor and Texas DPS campaign is no doubt a harsh setback for Mexican tourism and its goals of expansion, and if the warnings have the negative effect that business people expect, international tourism will drop, after having recovered notably in 2010. PL.

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