Monday, March 28, 2011

Anglos Unfazed by Mexico's Encroaching Drug War

By David Agren,
USA TODAY


John McWilliams traded a Victorian home in Galveston, Texas, 13 years ago for a bed-and-breakfast in this village of cobblestone streets and later a three-bedroom abode overlooking Lake Chapla, where an estimated 20,000 U.S. and Canadian expatriates — split roughly equally between the two nationalities — reside during the winter months.

He also traded insecurity for tranquility, having suffered three robberies back in Texas. Even with Mexico's organized-crime violence now encroaching on the region, McWilliams and his partner of 40 years, Earl French, maintain, "We feel safer here than there."

McWilliams and French formed part of a foreign relocation wave in which retirees began moving to Mexico, taking advantage of the cheaper prices, idyllic climate and welcoming local culture.
Not to mention opportune real estate investments.

The financial crisis diminished the relocation trend as aging Baby Boomers were left with lower home prices and smaller retirement nest eggs. Organized-crime activities now threaten to diminish the trend further — and violence has flared in Chapala (the municipality containing Ajijic) and its environs.

Graves known as narcofosas were discovered last November, while thugs with guns and grenades later attacked the local police chief's home.

Blockades known as narcobloqueos, in which gunmen hijack and torch vehicles, have occurred on the Guadalajara-Chapala highway.

Such stories appear to have fazed few expatriates, and many compare the violence to random attacks in high-crime cities north of the border.

The U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, 40 miles north of Chapala, recommends against driving the Guadalajara-Chapala highway at night, one of the "nerve-rattling tidbits" of information that El Paso native and real estate agent Tony Harries says U.S. citizens receive.

Some residents ignore the advisory.

"I worry more about animals on the highway" than violence, says Christy Wiseman, a retired teacher from Reno, adding that Mexican friends express concerns about her driving the road at night.
Concerns from worried relatives are common.

"My mom worries about me living in Mexico," says 14-year Ajijic resident Ada Huff.
"I tell my mom, 'I worry about you living in Miami.' "

Expatriate enclaves such as Chapala date back decades but became especially popular over the past 15 years with retirees seeking affordable and culturally interesting locales.

An annual chili cook-off highlights the Chapala social calendar, while a local supermarket sells imported staples with English labels such as $8 bags of Oreo cookies. A Tea Party chapter formed here before the last U.S. election. Annual property tax bills run about $200.

Property prices soared with the increasing popularity — and subsequently tumbled. Nowadays, "For sale" signs are commonly spotted.

Visitors in past years bought homes within days of arriving, recalls retired geography professor David Truly, who has studied the region and resides in Ajijic.

"This place was being hawked as if it were perfect," he says.

Truly foresees a new wave of interest in the region forming as retirees bring their elderly parents south for assisted-living programs at less than half the U.S. price. Many expatriates, he adds, "could live anywhere in the world" and look past the negative headlines.

Canadians, whose housing market has remained stable while currency has soared, are one group looking past the headlines and still wintering in Ajijic, hotelier Michael Eager says.

But some observers such as Debra Lattanzi Shutika, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia who has studied expatriate migration to Mexico, question whether foreigners have fallen in love with their Mexican lifestyles and failed to grasp the seriousness of the drug war.

"Most are so addled by their love of Mexico that they would be hesitant to see the dangers," Lattanzi Shutika says.

Some Americans living in Chapala express concerns over insecurity, along with their compatriots' cavalier attitudes.

"What's going on here isn't just urban crime," says Linda Herrin, a Colorado native, adding that she and others have developed backup plans in case the violence gets too close.

Northern California natives Michael Mclaughlin and Anita Lee encountered a narcobloqueo last fall while driving through Michoacán state, where thugs with guns and gasoline cans ordered them out of their vehicle. They escaped unharmed.

"I'm glad we already sold the house," Lee says, explaining that the sale provided the option of moving more easily.
Stories of rising violence troubled Richard and Reta Brey, who sold their lakeside home and moved to Seattle after 12 years in Mexico. A month after moving, a local police officer whom they previously had house-sit their Mexican property was abducted and murdered, Reta says.

"We know people who want to leave (Mexico,) but can't sell," she says.

McWilliams and French, whose Ajijic business provides tours for prospective residents, say they know of similar situations for Americans residing stateside.

"They can't sell their homes" to finance a move to Mexico, French says.

15 comments:

  1. Sadly, the comments of these expats show that they remain out of touch with the security situation despite living in Mexico. They are still pretending that they are on vacation and are blind to the realities.

    I have lived and worked in NL for 16 years and I have watched this idyllic area decline terribly and the security worsen day-by-day.

    How can they not be "fazed" by the worsening security. "Many compare the violence to random attacks in high-crime cities north of the border". This statement is ridiculous and shows that these people have never lived in a "high-crime" city area.

    There are no narcobloqueos and narcofosas in the US or Canada. Nor are there kidnappings and extortion on a wholesale basis.

    I love this country and hope I can stay here forever, but the security is terrible. These folks are delusional in their thinking.

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  2. many of the ex-pats and canadians do not speak spanish and they do not assimilate into the mexican community or culture. $8 dlls. oreos, for christ's sake!? many of these foreigners want to keep up the (perceived) value of their real estate or business holdings. so they ignore what's increasingly around them and they say its safe while they confine themselves inside of their small social circles. i'm sure they're loving the censorship brought on by iMx.

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  3. Let's face it, many of the Anglos live in Mexico live in much nicer areas of the country that are relatively safe compared to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon or the Border cities. And BTW, Anonymous 7:22 AM, Nuevo Leon has never been what I would call an 'idyllic area'. What the hell have you been smoking for your 16 years spent there for you to actually call the place that?

    'How can they (the US citizen expats) not be "fazed" by the worsening security (in Mexico). "Many compare the violence to random attacks in high-crime cities north of the border". This statement is ridiculous and shows that these people have never lived in a "high-crime" city area.'

    What is silly and ridiculous nonsense is what you just wrote, Anonymous. Anglos living around Lake Chapala or San Miguel de Allende are living in areas much nicer and SAFER! than South Chicago, Newark, Detroit, New Orleans, etc. Don't you know that???? They do.

    Let's face it. The Lucha Libre crime sheet qualities that BB projects seems to really distort many readers here sense of realities. We need to learn about and know this 'drug war' stuff but let's have some perspective about what's really going on in Mexico and Latin America.... Please. It's not anywhere like the bottom layer of Hell like many seem to be thinking it is. If anything?, then Mexico and the US are both kind of like Purgatory for most of the citizens if you live in one of the 2 countries barely surviving as so many do. Hell might be more like much of Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, India, or Haiti perhaps??? Mexico and the US just have pockets of Hell inside our abundant Purgatory.

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  4. I love the typical head in the sand comparisons to other US cities. I'm tired of explaining the murder rate comparison which is HUGE and tired of people saying oh, that happens in NYC. Sorry Anglos...I don't know of police being abducted and dismembered after torture anywhere in the USA. They live in high end areas and are blind to the reality. The difference between Mex and USA is the level of vulnerability. No deterrant at all in Mex and most likely no solved crime or justice.

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  5. @March 29, 2011 1:38 PM

    Have you ever lived in Mexico? No, then how about you shut up! These people live there day in and day out, so they know what they are talking about. I love the typical American who thinks they know the world from an armchair.

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  6. I lived in the Chapala area for over a year After they found a human head outside my door belonging to a 16 year old boy that was enough after 13 murders and paying extortion fees to keep my bar open that was enough I lived in other areas before so I left for mazatlan which I always loved got a condo on the beach and damed if 6 people were killed the day I arrived now if that was not bad enough in feb, 26 people were shot in one bar you could here the gun shots from my house the bar being only 2 blocks away the bar 4 doors down the other way app 14 were shot I have had many friends killed kidnaped robbed all told in the last year 52 people shot or killed in a 6 block area along the beach they also found 24 grandes if front of my condo Back to chapala the expacts have their heads burried 90 percent have no knowledge of spanish and the other 10 percent do not take the time to read a paper I was in naval special forces and a peace officer at san quentin prison for 24 years I worked death row for 15 I thought I saw everything in those 2 jobs so perhaps I see things others do not but this is bad reallll bad I have a mexican wife with kids so i have few options perhaps I can move again but where?you expacts that can leave should get out of dodge untill things cool down here. Things will get much worse here when chapo falls and he will fall then all hell will break loose If you chose to stay keep to your own as many mexicans under threat of injury or death will supply your name adress and phone number to these dirt bags I would supply your name before I let them hurt my wife and kids Hope this saves at least someone a bad experince

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  7. There are not a lot of US Anglo expat owners of bars in Mexico, Anonymous 9:00pm, so perhaps you might be about the only expat that has heads show up on any doorway? PLUS....

    'if that was not bad enough in feb, 26 people were shot in one bar you could here the gun shots from my house the bar being only 2 blocks away the bar 4 doors down the other way app 14 were shot I have had many friends killed kidnaped robbed all told in the last year 52 people shot or killed in a 6 block area ..'

    I think that perhaps you're feeding us all a total line of bullshit here. No, make that that I am positive that you are.

    'they found a human head outside my door belonging to a 16 year old boy that was enough after 13 murders and paying extortion fees to keep my bar...'

    You piled the crap on way too thick for it to be anywhere believable, exSoldier GI Joe. Next you'll be telling us that the cartels launched a nuclear warhead onto your newest supposed business effort. LMAO at your nice little fiction writing though.

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  8. hey ardent there are many expact owners of bars here in mexico It is a dream come true for many, and for me it came true. In my 54 year I have seen many things. In these 2 towns Mazatlan and chapala Many people have been hurt and killed Do you read the posts? there are 2 others blobdelnarco and todosobrenarcotraficomexico (in english is} blog of the drug dealer and all among drug biz they are in spanish but you will learn more there than here as this is an american site and you can talk to the mexicans that live here in mexico and I think you will learn more from them and maybe belive them I do not take offense that you do not belive me as I do not belive one half of what I see, but to attack me as crazy is wrong. By the way the are no soldiers in the navy only sailors

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  9. OK, Anonymous, maybe I was too harsh in judging you as making exactly all of it completely up. Still, I know that you are totally exaggerating what exactly has happened to you in the relatively peaceful areas of gringo expat areas of Mazatlan and Lago Chapala. Plus, I do not think that running a bar in Mexico is too many gringos' ideas of a 'dream come true'. It's not. ... especially with your typical retired expat type.

    I am married to a Mexican national, too, yet neither of us would ever want to be bar owners in Mexico. God prohibit such an idea! I cannot imagine whatever tortured stokes of illogic would have drawn you into doing such?

    Yeah, sorry about calling a navy man from where??? San Diego??? a Gi Joe... lol...

    Still, your telling us all that retired gringo expat's having their heads in the sand about the dangers of living in their enclave areas like Puerta Vallarta, Chapala, Baja, and San Miguel Allende is laughable. Believe me, it is way more dangerous for them and their health to be living in say... US nursing homes. Sad, isn't it?

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  10. Hey ardent you are right the bar was a bad idea the rules and regs are much different here and so is the work ethic. I never did make any money to speak of but I made many friends I asume you live in the states and keep an eye on events here. You have to admit the murder rate is climbing, projections for mazatlan this year will break 400,last year app 345, pop of 400000 is 100 per 100000 murder rate of 100 compared to my state of idaho 3.3 If projections of 5000 in juarez hold true that rate will be 320 versus 3.3, less than 5 percent of mazatlan are expats. We all have opinons ardent and I respect that however I find these rates very concerning I love the country and my mexican friends and have no desire to return there. I also hope your wifes family is safe and secure where they are. Also thanks for letting me know I live in a enclave area.

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  11. Yeah, that is a horrible rate. I had no idea that it would be so high for Mazatlan.

    My wife's family members live in some of the worst zones of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon where the bloodshed has been quite bad recently. Luckily nobody directly in the family has been badly hurt. Though no place is completely safe from the violence, I do think of the Chapala and Mazatlan areas as being relatively safe as compared to other areas. Don't you, too?

    Guatemala is a dangerous place, also, but I also think of Antigua there as being much safer for expats than many other more remote locales in that country, or the capital city is. Every Latin America country has its safer areas where expats are relatively secure, so that's why expats that live in these relatively more dangerous countries continue to stay. Medellin, for example, is now a place where expats are moving to!

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  12. Hey ardent the game plan changes daily here (in mexico) with the drug cartels. mazatlan is under the control of chapo he gives the ok for different groups to transport thru this area and allows safe houses. When they or he wants to change plans that is when we have problems here. The zetas have entered this area without the ok of chapo many stores bars etc must pay taxes {thats what the zetas call it) or you have many problems. The problems in juarez is the same thing (by the way those are chapos boys causing all the problems) one group moves without the ok of the other. So what I am saying is, what is safe today may not be tomorrow. Your are right parts of central are much worse I lived in the Leon (the city) area for a short time few problems there and I leave on the 7th for mexico city(to visit) petty crime but few murders. Many drug lords seem to live there and have a understanding this is a safe area no murders allowed (barbie caught there also felix real big fish) Like I told you I was a peace officer in calif for 24 years the different gangs respected safe areas. I do not know all the players on the east coast side but belive the gulf cartel can hold off the zetas with help from some of the others (these zetas are real bad people) Chapo is streached thin with Juarez and I belive he can very little support. We have learned through history you can not win when fighting on two fronts (I said the zetas were bad, not smart) also the zetas do not have the drug routes that provide the type of cash this war needs Thats why extortion kidnapping priate products are thier #1 source of income. Do not think I support or back any of these dirt bags they all must go. My concern is when we see chapo lose control will this be the nevo leon or juarez Here is another one for you in Mazatlan I belive as much as 20 percent of the nice restarunts and hotels are owned by narcos I was looking for another restaurant or bar to buy when I arrived here from chapala (yes I know stupid) when I asked about if they were interested in selling I was told no. In the the last 4 months I have never seen so much as 1 customer in about 8 to 10 of these places (laundering cash?) Mexican I R S loves this no customers but 3 million in sales. Ok ardent golf time got to go If you ever want to visit here let me know I would be happy to buy you and the wife dinner I know many safe restruants here (if you dont mind eating with a liar) take care and good luck

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  13. Might take you up on your dining offer, Anonymous. Mazatlan is one of those places I have most fond memories of when I visited there quite some time ago. PLUS, it's got a rep as being a lower cost retirement zone for Gringos and I'm about ready to head in that direction!

    You gave me a good laugh, too, about those 'marginalized' businesses that can be seen throughout so many Latin American countries. Seems that many owners are just very very poor businessmen! ..lol... What can you say really? We wish them luck when they eventually go broke...

    You're a 'peace officer' become bar owner? Well perhaps having a drug trafficker to bar owner government sponsored program might be a good plan to get more of the cartelistas to lay down their arms? Felipe could perhaps double the guaranteed loans for legitimate titty bars that were not hidden whore houses, too. Would it work? ...lol... I think that it would!

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  14. ardent Mazatlan is a great town and for the most part the grigos here are safe it is the mexicans that get killed. Remeber I said our circle of friends 90 percent are mexican they see more violence, for example a very close friend of my wife who visits here daily and lived close to us in chapala.anyway she returned here (her home town) after her father was killed with two others new years day I looked for this is the paper but it was never recorded I have my doubts about her story but I know he is dead. Other friends have similar stories my point is you need to watch who you pick as friends like anywhere else in the world, here even more also I said 52 people were shot or killed in a six block area. Well these are what I counted in 4 months Ive been here. I included 1 event the bar 4 doors down where there were 14 victims In July. To be honest I have no Idea how many others there were in the other 8 months and I do not want to know. So ardent you were correct when you said I was not telling the whole story But on the good side blocks here on the beach are 1/4 mile long so maybe its not that bad. As far as cost of living many things are cheaper goods produced here beer in bars beer in stores no cars cost more, gas is the same dinner out 1/2 price massage 15 dollars with happy ending 30 (dont let your wife read this) lap dance 5 dollars, night with a hot gal 75 labor is cheap I paid barmaids 10 dollars a day skilled labor 30 per day caddies are not cheap here and you are required to have them 25dollars cigs 2 dollars local brands american 3.60 I am renting a two bedroom condo on the beach for 700 electric is 25 a month garbarge 3 cable 15 phone you pay in advance and is more exspensive here To be honest I would not advise anyone to move here only becuse it may get worse Ok ardent If you want more info call me at 3107735605 this a yahoo nunber in L.A. leave a message or number or e-mail then I can send you mine I dont want to post it here take care

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