The Department of State issued Wednesday its semi-annual travel warning for Mexico, putting five of the country’s states in the same threat category as war-torn Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
As a whole, Mexico was rated at the second-lowest of four threat levels in the department’s new travel advisory system rolled out last week. But five Mexican states — Sinaloa, Guerrero, Michoacan, Colima and Tamaulipas — were given the highest rating of “do not travel,” the same designation applied to near-failed states plagued by terrorism and open warfare.
The State Department’s travel advisory system now uses four tiers: “exercise normal precautions,” “exercise increased caution,” “reconsider travel,” and “do not travel.” Countries labeled “do not travel” present a high likelihood of of life-threatening risks for travelers, and U.S. government officials stationed in those places have “very limited ability” to assist Americans in distress, according to the State Department.
In Mexico, all five of the states given the highest threat rating are hotspots for the country’s violent and powerful drug trafficking organizations. Over the past two years, battles between cartels vying for control of supply routes to the lucrative U.S. drug market have sent murder rates soaring and put large swaths of the country outside the effective control of the Mexican government.
Four of the states — Sinaloa, Guerrero, Michoacan and Colima — are situated along Mexico’s mountainous west coast, for many years the country’s primary drug production and trafficking corridor. Cartels there operate with relative impunity, bribing and threatening state and local officials to eliminate resistance. The lack of state control has forced local residents to form the equivalent of militia groups to fend off the cartels, but the so-called “grupos de autodefensa” often resort to criminal activity themselves.
The fifth state on State’s “do not travel” list, Tamaulipas, borders the U.S. along the Rio Grande and contains several key “plazas,” or drug markets that serve as gateways to the U.S. Long a battleground for the warring Gulf and Zetas cartels, Tamaulipas is plagued by mass kidnappings and running gunfights between cartel operatives and Mexican military forces.
The State Department’s travel warnings are often tricky a subject with the Mexican government, which is sensitive to any suggestion that its lucrative tourist areas are unsafe for U.S. travelers. In response to State’s latest advisory, the Mexico Tourism Board said the country’s “major international tourism destinations have been explicitly listed as having no travel restrictions,” referring to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.
However, the resort towns of Acapulco and Iztapa-Zihuatanejo are located in Guerrero, which was designated a “do not travel” country.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico’s travel policy, a separate document for American government personnel in Mexico, had already banned non-official trips to Guerrero, including Acapulco.
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