Rethinking Mexico

5 March 2009 By Kelly Sanford

As a number of captains are making their plans for the spring and summer seasons on the east or west coasts of Mexico, or will be passing through en route to Central America or the Pacific Northwest, it’s important to keep a keen eye on the news coming out of that country.

The U.S. State Department issued this travel alert on February 20: “While millions of [travelers] safely visit Mexico each year violence in the country has increased recently. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations and whom to contact if one becomes a crime victim.”

On February 26th, Diane Rehm of American University in Washington, D.C., hosted an expert panel to discuss the current situation in Mexico. Guest John Walters, the former U.S. Drug Czar during the Bush administration, said that some of the interactions between law enforcement and the drug cartels in Mexico resemble “small unit combat”. British journalist Shaun Waterman, who writes for the United Press International, described “the current spasm” of escalating violence in Mexico as “grizzly, brutal and awful.”

In 2008, there were more than 5,000 drug-related killings in Mexico (more than in Iraq or Afghanistan). These statistics even surpass the annual number of fatalities due to drug violence in Colombia during the 1980s. Unfortuntely, there are no signs of the problem abating in 2009.

Though much of the violence involves law enforcement and competing drug cartels, of particular concern to the yachting industry is the ascending trend in the number of kidnappings for ransom. According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Foreign Policy fellow at the Brooking Institute, “There are serious issues and concerns about the lack of public safety…[which] has reached the point where regular society is being affected.”

Dockwalk recently spoke with a captain who works for a Mexican national and who has spent a lot of time in Mexico. “I don’t think it’s that bad…,” he says. “The marinas in the popular areas have very good security. I can’t say that I think there is a major problem.” However, the same captain did admit that his boss normally travels within Mexico with a number of armed bodyguards.

The U.S. State Department reports that Mexico’s Caribbean destinations, “Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are experiencing increased reports of crime.” It goes on to request that tourists take certain precautions when traveling in Mexico.

Consult State Department advisories before you go, and take consulate information with you. When in Mexico, pay close attention to what's happening around you and be careful. Don’t engage in behavior that might increase your chances of being targeted. This includes avoiding areas of known violence, not attempting to acquire recreational pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs, knowing what clubs are safe, never going anywhere alone, avoiding travel at night and not flashing large sums of money or wearing expensive clothing or jewelry.

Waterman says that the U.S. State Department is not telling people not to go to Mexico, but is advising them “on how they should conduct themselves while in the country.” Most major tourist areas remain relatively safe. Unfortunately, guests and crew aboard luxury yachts are particularly at risk of attracting unwelcome attention from individuals looking for wealthy targets.

As a side note, captains who will be traveling to Mexico need to be aware that due to the intensity of the drug wars, the government agencies are cracking down on the flow of firearms within the country. If you plan to have firearms aboard for protection, it will be necessary to get proper authorization aboard prior to arriving in Mexico.

For more information, visit:

To listen to Diane Rehm’s Drug Wars in Mexico broadcast:

Have you had any problems ashore in Mexico? Let know below.