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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | Opinions | January 2009 

Mexico - How Bad is it Really?
email this pageprint this pageemail usJeremy Schwartz - Cox Newspapers
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As violent as the drug war has become, its victims are still overwhelmingly connected to the cartels. Few innocents are caught in the cross-fire.
I just got back from a two week vacation in my native New England and by far the most frequent question from friends and family was: Is Mexico really as bad as I think it is?

The image of Mexico that has reached the great northeast is one of extreme violence, a country engulfed by chaos, where walking outside is to risk being hit by a stray bullet. It’s not hard to see how this has happened: the last year has indeed been the bloodiest on record, with more than 5,000 drug related killings, twice as many as in 2007.

And the violence has been the dominant theme of journalistic coverage of Mexico: Newsweek reporters go on CNN and talk of a “failed state” south of the border. The cover of last month’s Forbes magazine depicts a country spiraling into chaos. A recent Los Angeles Times story speaks of the “Afghanistan-ization” of Mexico. Small wonder then that many Americans see Mexico as little more than a hellish mix of corruption and violence.

I told my friends and family that the reality here is far more nuanced. While there are certainly some failed cities - I would never tell loved ones to go anywhere near Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana or Culiacan - most of the country is still stable and peaceful. As violent as the drug war has become, its victims are still overwhelmingly connected to the cartels. Few innocents are caught in the cross-fire. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a sightseeing trip to certain border towns or through the remote mountains of the Sierra Madre, but tourists should feel comfortable booking a trip to places like Puerto Vallarta or Oaxaca or Veracruz.

In many parts of the country, the drug war remains confined to the headlines. In recent months I’ve traveled without incident to the seaside town of Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula, colonial Puebla outside of Mexico City, cobblestoned San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato and the humid, lowland capital of Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco. In all four places, life was largely being lived as usual. Even in big, bad Mexico City, where I live with my wife, violence, or fear of violence, is not the dominant feeling, despite the headlines.

Viewing Mexico as an ungovernable chaos is to make a caricature of this vast, complex country. And as I told my friends and family, it can prevent you from enjoying the magic that still courses through Mexico’s veins.

Jeremy Schwartz is the Mexico correspondent for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Mexico City.



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