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Tijuana Tragedy: Is It News to You?

Scott Vogel

In case you haven't heard, a new travel alert -- or, to be precise, an updated travel alert -- was issued yesterday for Americans traveling to Mexico. The bulletin, which you can read in full here, is primarily concerned with criminal activity in the border towns, and warns of an increase in narcotics-related violence, including carjackings and armed robbery. But it was this rather astonishing claim that caught my eye:

Dozens of U.S. citizens were kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in 2007.

I don't know about you, but my immediate reaction was, if that's the case, why hasn't a stern warning been issued sooner? It's not that media outlets haven't dutifully reported on the situation. A February article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, for instance, revealed that "Organized, well-financed and violent Mexican kidnapping cells are targeting a growing number of U.S. citizens visiting communities popular with San Diegans and other California residents." Indeed, according to the paper, at least 26 residents of the San Diego area were abducted and held for ransom last year.

Newsweek has also recently covered on the surge in kidnappings in Mexico, reporting that 18 Americans have been abducted since Thanksgiving of last year. Some of the victims were seriously injured, others were killed.

Media attention surrounding this latest travel alert may at last reach a preponderance of American travelers, who will hopefully take serious precautions when visiting border towns in the near future. (For information on how to avoid being a crime victim in Tijuana, visit this page on the consulate's Web site.)

But the news is coming too late for a man whom CNN identified as "Joe" in March. He was beaten with the butt of a rifle and his tongue sliced during a two-week ordeal.

When lead paint was discovered in Chinese toys last year, the FDA was able to get the message out with speed (albeit not quickly enough, I admit). When hamburger meat is periodically found to be tainted with E. coli, the recalls are immediate. Now it appears that Tijuana and several other Mexican towns should be "recalled" by travelers, but is the word getting out fast enough?

By Scott Vogel |  April 16, 2008; 6:15 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel
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Kidnapped and murdered? A bit of a surprise to me. While I would never consider Tijuana especially safe, I just figured that the risk was the occasional pickpocket or mugging at knife point. Not trivial, but not losing your life either. I would have expected to hear SOMETHING on the news about this.

Posted by: SapphicHokieMom | April 16, 2008 11:38 AM

My husband and I popped down to Nogales while we were spending a cuople days in Tuscon earlier this month. We left the tourist market and pharmacy area quickly, just to explore, and felt very safe and welcome in the residential areas. Of course, we could just be idiots...

Posted by: FearlessTripster | April 16, 2008 1:26 PM

Are there any stats on the total number of kidnappings in Mexico? If you include Mexican citizens, I think the count would be staggering. In the past year, I've heard through friends of two different ex-pat Mexicans who had relatives kidnapped for ransom and subsequently killed. My impression is that Mexico is a disaster in terms of safety from crime. Is the government even trying to do anything about it, or do they only care about cashing in on their proximity to the US?

Posted by: bpm | April 16, 2008 2:00 PM

Amazing! BPM, are you sure those reports of kidnapping and murder are not a form of expat myth? I have not heard anything about this and although I live most of the year in Oaxaca (which is much less dangerous than you have heard!!), my daughter and her family live in San Diego. They are not at all happy if I choose to fly into Tijuana (which I have done only once because of that) but that seemed to be about their car insurance. None of my friends who live in Ensenada, Mazatlan, San Miguel de Allende or here in Oaxaca have heard of these expat murders/kidnappings. Strange. Sometimes I think the government just wants us to stay home and spend our money there.

Posted by: oaxacanpajaro | April 16, 2008 3:21 PM

Isn't this the same alert that has been on the State Dept. Web site? It clearly says that it supercedes the warning from Oct. 2007. Instead of expiring in April 2008, it now expires in October 2008.

Posted by: lk | April 18, 2008 3:30 PM

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