Spring break warning issued
Colleges, US cite violence, killings in Mexican towns
PHOENIX - The State Department and universities around the country are warning college students headed to Mexico for spring break of a surge in drug-related killings and mayhem south of the border.
"We're not necessarily telling students not to go, but we're going to certainly alert them," said Tom Dougan, vice president for student affairs at the University of Rhode Island. "There have been Americans kidnapped, and if you go you need to be very aware and very alert to this fact."
More than 100,000 high school- and college-age Americans travel to Mexican resort areas during spring break each year.
Much of the drug violence is happening in border towns, and tourists have generally not been targeted, though there have been killings in Acapulco and Cancun, two locales frequented by visitors that are located well away from the border.
The University of Arizona in Tucson is urging its approximately 37,000 students not to go to Mexico. Other universities - in the Southwest and far beyond, including Penn State, Notre Dame, the University of Colorado, and the University at Buffalo - said they would call students' attention to the travel warning issued Feb. 20 by the State Department.
The State Department stopped short of warning students not to go to Mexico, but advised them to avoid areas of prostitution and drug-dealing and take other common-sense precautions.
"Sage advice," said Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. "We have had documented violence, attacks, killings, shootouts with the drug cartels involving not only the military but law enforcement personnel. It is indiscriminate violence, and certainly innocent people have been caught up in that collateral damage."
Mexico's drug cartels are waging a bloody fight among themselves for smuggling routes and against government forces, carrying out massacres and dumping beheaded bodies in the streets. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year.
But Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora of Mexico said in an interview that "There is no major risk for students coming into Mexico in general terms. It is always important to advise the youngsters to behave."
Despite the bloodshed, the number of foreign tourists visiting Mexico surged to 23 million in 2008, up 5.9 percent from the year before, spurred in part by the tumbling value of the peso against the dollar, according to the country's Tourism Department.
The department estimates 80 percent of tourists in Mexico come from the United States.