America’s playground is no more

Because of drug wars, Mexico is no longer a safe travel destination for Americans.

Hadley Gustin

As I sit here in my cozy apartment typing away on a cold and dreary Saturday afternoon, I am reminded of what is to come in a matter of five short weeks. Memories of bright sun, stunning beaches and hot 80-degree days flood my mind as I daydream about the exhilarating experiences that characterize spring break. Although I am sad to say I will not be flying too far south this year (just back to the relaxation and comfort of my home in Chicago), I cannot help but fantasize about vacationing on the shores of Cancún, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas. In February 2009, MSNBC reported that Cancún would be the most popular spring break hotspot, with over 30,000 tourists expected to make the trip; not far behind were the Mexican coastal cities of Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. The wide array of advertisements and shoreline settings are part of what makes Mexico the place to be every spring, but most of all it is the infamous MTV culture of AmericaâÄôs youth that gets people to venture south of the border. For âÄúSpring Break 2010,âÄù MTV will host its annual telecast of bars, beaches and bashes in none other than Acapulco, where the weather is temperate and the nightlife sizzling. Even with this unstable economy causing people to cut back on expenditures, people still find ways to turn out in record numbers for the chance to participate in the sundry thrills of a Mexican spring vacation. In five weeksâÄô time, I have no doubt a significant portion of our student body will be flying on planes, riding on buses and driving in cars to the alluring sands of Mexico, where they will let loose and throw all caution to the wind. However, before students leave for their fun in the sun, it is essential to understand that the widely publicized notions of Cancún, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta as places of stupid and carefree indulgence are actually misrepresentations of the current realities plaguing Mexico. I am sure that in the past year many have heard talk about MexicoâÄôs perpetual drug wars and the possibility of the stateâÄôs collapse. Still, especially at this time of year with ads of cheap flights, hotel deals and excursion packages inundating the U.S. travel market, it is hard to heed the sobering messages of imminent danger and violence concerning AmericaâÄôs favorite playground. Nevertheless, over the course of the past few years, Mexico has become a nation in peril, and it would be in the interest of the American people to realize the nature of the situation with which their southern neighbor is dealing. At the moment, Mexico is a key overseas supplier of marijuana and a major dealer of methamphetamine and heroin to the United States. After the dismantling of ColombiaâÄôs chief drug cells, Cali and Medellin, the spotlight turned to Mexico as the epicenter of drug trafficking into America. According to Global Envision, a Web site sponsored by Mercy Corps, a disaster relief organization, âÄúone study reported that the loss of the drug business would shrink MexicoâÄôs economy by 63 percent. Drug trafficking is an estimated $50 billion a year business there.âÄù With these kinds of statistics, it is easy to see why the state of affairs in Mexico has turned into a proverbial blood bath. Although the Mexican government has been fighting the cartelsâÄô power for many years, the stateâÄôs major offensive against the drug rings began three years ago under then newly elected President Felipe Calderón. The Los Angeles TimesâÄô Ken Ellingwood stated that âÄúCalderón, politically weak after winning a disputed election, chose a popular issue by taking a tougher approach to drug trafficking.âÄù Therefore, hostilities increased severely as the president used the military to suffocate the vitality of the drug trade.âÄù Unfortunately, the nationâÄôs armed forces have not proven to be wholly successful. Take for example journalist Richard MarosiâÄôs recent article pertaining to brutality in Tijuana. âÄúJust a few months ago, Tijuana was hailed by some as a success story in MexicoâÄôs war on drug cartels,âÄù Marosi wrote. âÄúSince December, however, the violence has surged. The rival gangs appear to have broken their truce and are, at times, employing different and deadlier tactics.âÄù Seeing how AmericaâÄôs excessive consumption of Mexican drugs is a crucial part of this ongoing problem, the U.S. government has recently enhanced its financial and military support of Mexico. The cornerstone of American assistance is a $1.4 billion aid package that includes full-scale training programs for MexicoâÄôs Federal Police. Local police forces play a lesser role than the national military in the drug wars due to what Chris Hawley of USA Today cites as âÄúcorruption and insufficient training.âÄù Thus, local and state officials feel largely helpless to combat an enemy that is so deeply embedded in their society. If every American knew this much about the instability and unrest in Mexico, I hardly believe the travel statistics would remain favorable. Despite the low chances that a U.S. citizen will be harmed in a Mexican drug conflict, I would not want to jeopardize my personal safety for the vicarious adventures of a vacation that could be had elsewhere. On August 20, 2009, the State Department listed Mexico on its Travel Alerts list, and it has yet to be removed. While I am fully aware that most will proceed with their plans to travel to Mexico this spring regardless of the precarious conditions that exist there, it would be incredibly wise to stay abreast of the latest news and information relating to the drug wars. Particularly during spring break, when everyoneâÄôs guard is down, it is not difficult at all for arbitrary acts of sadism to occur and remind tourists that Mexico is no longer a memorable safe spot for American frivolity and amusement. Hadley Gustin welcomes comments at [email protected]