Wednesday, September 08, 2010

bandits need not apply

Crime in Mexico is in the news again.

Before you say: "Here we go again with hysterical stories of how dangerous Mexico is!"  Just listen up a minute.  Sometimes, the news is good.
Most of us who live in Mexico have a completely different perception of how dangerous the place is than do our friends and family.  I received two letters this week from friends who made that very point.

A classmate from law school, who lives in Honolulu, has been concerned about my safety in Mexico since I moved south.  But now he has an alternative life style for me:

I am very concerned about your personal safety as the drug cartels seem to be extending their waves of killings and violence further south from the U.S./Mexican Border.  Can you arm yourself when you go to Mexico. What about retiring to Arizona or New Mexico or Nevada?

Ironically, a friend in Nevada (Lovelock, to be specific -- you have to love the name) sent me similar sentiments:

I assume you have seen the news about car bombs and politicians hiring prisoners as assassins in Mexico.  Tell me again why you want to live there.

I understand the sentiments.  I hear it almost every week from my colleagues at lunch.  They are content to believe the horror stories they hear on CNN are a daily occurrence in every Mexican village.

But those of us who live in Mexico know they are just that. Sentiments.

There are real crime problems in Mexico.  Most of it related to the war between the government and the drug lords -- not to mention the war the drug lords have going with one another.  But that violence is mainly clustered around the border with the United States.  And, even then, most of the dead are involved, to some degree, in the drug trade.

But in most of our villages, violence tends to be be more personal -- and almost universally involves a love triangle that has imploded like a black hole.  Love killings are always second cousins to the St. Valentine's Day massacre.  Not pretty.

Now there are numbers to support those of us who refuse to join the Chicken Little Brigade.

Mexico’s homicide rate is 14 per 100,000 inhabitants.  That is three times as high as the homicide rate in the United States.  But that is not saying much.

Twenty large American cities have homicide rates higher than that.    A couple 4 times higher.  Ironically, Brazil, Mexico's Latin American power rival, has a homicide almost twice as high as Mexico's.  And I do not hear anyone being advised to stay away from Rio.

But most areas of Mexico are as peaceful as Canada -- safer than some urban areas of Canada.  Including most of Mexico's resorts.  And including my small fishing village by the sea.

The morally disturbing drug war would keep me out of the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Durango.  But I am certain there are peaceful areas there, as well.  But not for me.

Crime is not an issue for me in Mexico.  When I return, I will be as cautious as I am in Salem.

There are real things to enjoy in life.  Being afraid of bogeyman criminals is not one of them.



Calypso said...

Steve - As you suggest - some caution is wise - however getting the facts in detail as you have lain out here is critical to good judgment.

Avoiding Mexico as a whole from these news reports and broad based statistics would be like avoiding the United States because you keep reading about the crime rate in Harlem.

Of course the U.S. news services do not help the matter. Discernment is the key. – always a good thing.

- Mexican Trailrunner said...

It does get tiresome doesn't it? While it's family and friends expressing concern for my safety, and that's really nice that they care, it's also very clear they are responding to the mega hysteria concerning all things Mexican produced by the US 'news' reports.
Sometimes I can even tell by their degree of feat that they watch Fox News!

Now, I'll save my breath and just refer them to your well written post. Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

Don't bury your head in the sand. I personally talked with a close friend of a pastor in a small village in Mexico. (He are his family are Mexican). He received a phone call stating that they had his wife and two children. They knew their names and knew where they lived. The pastor was on his cell phone and his battery was about to go dead. They wanted 400,000 pesos and if he said no or hung up they would kill his family. He told them his phone would go dead and he didn't have that kind of money. He rushed home and found his family safely at home. It was a hoax but they knew a lot about his family. He has put up a 10 foot walled fence around his home now and he and his family live with fear. This is a very quiet very old Mexican village.

Ian Huntington said...

Steve, I couldn't agree more with you. There is violence, crime and killing everywhere and we should always stay alert on both sides of the border. I, too, get very tired of people asking me if I feel safe or if anything has happened to me in Mexico. They act surprised and somewhat disappointed when I reply that I've never been, nor do I know anyone who has been, mugged, kidnapped or decapitated in my little pueblo.

Laurie said...

Thought provoking. However we who live in Latin countries must admit that we live behind high gates and walls. It is indeed not as secure as NOB. I recall my one year in the Guadalajara area. It was not impossible to live a safe life, but precautions were in order that one didn't need in the US. I don't think it has improved over time. I'm not sure where I'm bound when I retire. Stay in Honduras further tucked away in the hills? Possibly? Or maybe someplace with a bit more cooler temps. I can see myself summering in Maine, and winters in Central America.