Wednesday, January 13, 2010

People are Afraid to Visit Mexico

In wake of Salcedo's death, close ties with Mexico loosen in Mexican-American communities.

Pasadena Star News


After the drug-war New Year's Eve execution of El Monte educator Bobby Salcedo, people in neighborhoods with historically close ties to Mexico are having second thoughts about a country they once loved.

Tourists, fishermen, truckers and even people born in Mexico said they are afraid of visiting and are fed up with drug violence.

South El Monte Councilman Hector Delgado said he would never travel to Mexico again in the wake of Salcedo's death.

"Before it was very taboo to even consider assaulting an American, now these are ruthless gangsters and they don't care," said Delgado, who is urging people to boycott travelling to Mexico.


Like South El Monte, which is 86 percent Latino, cities in the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier areas have tight bonds with Mexico.

Salcedo was murdered in Gomez Palacio, South El Monte's sister city.

Santa Fe Springs' sister city - Navojoa, Sonora - also has seen cartel violence, including kidnappings, according to news reports.

Salcedo, assistant principal at El Monte High School and member of the El Monte City School Board, was gunned down with five other men in the Mexican town of Gomez Palacio in the state of Durango. He was there with his wife visiting family for Christmas.

As the economy sags and reports of drug-cartel violence fill newspapers, travel to Mexico has been slow since mid-2009, said Angel Pedroza of the Vista Travel Center in El Monte.

Airline travel to Mexico from the U.S. is down 12.5 percent for the first nine months of 2009 compared to the same period the year before, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

People who travel to Mexico now are doing so because they need to visit family or for business, not for leisure, Pedroza said.

"We used to have a lot people going on tours," he said.

Now its just young tourists and people with business south of the border, he said.

At Kimura's Fishing Tackle in Chino, the scuttlebutt from fishermen is that they are worried about the violence.

"It's definitely a concern," said 60-year old owner Gary Kimura, who often fishes an hour north of Cabo San Lucas. "They just don't want to get caught in the bad areas."


Salcedo's death and the increased attention on Mexico's drug war comes as Mexico is trying to put its best foot forward to celebrate its bicentennial, which is Sept. 16 of this year.

The country even entered a float in this year's Rose Parade.

Mexican officials in the U.S. have tried to reassure the U.S. public that incidents like Salcedo's slaying are rare among tourists.

They say the increased killings are the result of turmoil caused by a government crackdown on cartels.

The overall murder rate in Mexico has been declining, according to officials.

Most of the violence has been concentrated in five states: Chihuahua, Baja California, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Michoacan, according to officials.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert in August warning U.S. citizens to be cautious as violence in Mexico has increased.

For nearly 40 years, Mel Montes, owner of a Santa Fe Springs-based trucking company, has been traveling to Mexico to visit family and friends and for work.

"I'm not afraid, I'm just careful," he said.

He opts for higher-end, and presumably safer, restaurants when visiting Zacatecas and Guadalajara, he said.

"I don't go to those places where there are high levels of risk," Montes said.

When Salcedo was kidnapped, he was out to dinner with friends of his wife, whose family is from Durango, a state rocked by recent drug violence.

Montes hopes justice will be served by Mexican officials.

"We have to think positive," he said. "We can't let that stop us from doing what we want."

Despite a few high-profile killings and captures of cartel leaders in December, many fear there is no end in sight for the violence.

Some Mexican popular culture, including music, is steeped in references to drug running.

In 2003, Santa Fe Springs hosted the famous Mexican band Los Tigres del Norte in its community music festival.

One of their biggest hits was "Contrabando y Traicion," or "Smuggling and Betrayal."

The song about a drug-smuggling couple starts: "They left San Isidro, coming from Tijuana, They had their car tires full of bad grass..."

In the end, the woman kills the man and takes the money.

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