The weekend of March 13 — the first weekend of USC’s spring break — reports of increased violence in Mexico prompted a travel warning from the federal government but did not seem to stop students from heading south of the border to popular spring break destinations.
Three people affiliated with the U.S. Consulate were shot and killed that weekend in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In Acapulco, a common vacation destination, 17 people were killed. The violence is a result of competition among drug cartels, and drug-related deaths have been an ongoing problem in Mexico.
Because of the recent deaths, the Department of State issued a travel warning March 14 to inform U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico of the security concerns facing the country. The warning urges visitors to stay in well-known tourist areas, leave an itinerary with someone not traveling with them, avoid traveling alone and check with cell phone carriers to ensure coverage prior to departure.
Yet reports of the violence running rampant throughout the country seemed to have little impact on students who viewed Mexico as the ideal spring break destination.
“We’ve always wanted to do the stereotypical college spring break in Mexico,” Allison Bierly, a senior majoring in communication, wrote in an e-mail. Bierly spent the week in Cabo San Lucas. “My friend had a timeshare there, so we got to stay for free.”
USC students received an e-mail from Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs, about a month before spring break began. The e-mail encouraged students to register their trips online and referred those traveling to Mexico to the Department of State’s publication, “Spring Break in Mexico: Know Before You Go!”
“We’ve had students stopped, students arrested, students get into fights,” Jackson said. “With all these drug wars going on, we want to make sure that people don’t get caught up in these things inadvertently.”
Jackson said he faced harassment from the Mexican police two years ago while on vacation with his family. He said officers tried to force him to pay a bribe after he was pulled over and accused of speeding.
His advice to students spending their break in Mexico: “Don’t drink too much. Don’t go to places that you’re unfamiliar with. Stay with your friends. Don’t seek out illicit drugs. Use common sense, and stay out of seedy bars.”
Michelle Tsang, a senior majoring in communication and psychology, said that the school e-mail made her more concerned about her trip. She decided that a cruise with friends through Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada was a safer alternative to planning a trip on her own.
“Even though the excursions planned by the cruise were more expensive, we opted to do those — instead of the twenty dollar snorkeling or thirty dollar parasailing trips that were offered by locals promoting on the street, which could be dangerous,” Tsang wrote in an e-mail.
Violence in Mexico is widely acknowledged to be on the rise, despite efforts by the Mexican government to minimize crimes related to drug trafficking.
Pamela Starr, associate professor and director of the US-Mexico Network@USC, said violence is most prevalent along the drug transshipment routes, over which two cartel alliances are fighting to control. This area includes Juárez, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo along the border, the Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa regions, and Acapulco.
Starr went on to say that violence is never intentionally directed at tourists, although a lot of innocent civilians are increasingly targeted by mistake or get caught in the crossfire in extremely violent cities.
Students seemed to feel that as long as they used common sense while traveling, they would not fall victim to the violence and crime in Mexico.
“I was confident that where we were staying was pretty safe,” Melissa Ingraham, a senior majoring in communication, wrote in an e-mail. “[In Cabo San Lucas], we were highly condensed with other college students, so I knew that if we acted responsibly we would be fine.”
Ingraham also made sure to keep in close contact with her parents, a tactic that was strongly recommended in the Department of State’s spring break guide.
“My parents were worried, but I made sure to constantly update them. It reassured them that I was OK,” Ingraham wrote.
Though many students took the travel warnings with a grain of salt, some parents took the alerts much more seriously.
“One of our friends did not end up going on the trip because her parents were too worried that it wasn’t safe,” Bierly wrote.
Though reports of violence in Mexico are broadcast daily, it appears the country’s popularity as a spring break destination — much like the crime rate — is not decreasing.