EDITORIAL: Take care

Travel warning for Mexico a reminder to be cautious

For many Rio Grande Valley residents the holidays are an international affair. Many people cross the border to visit family or friends, others simply head south to enjoy Mexico’s unique cultural or culinary offerings during the winter break. The U.S. State Department has a warning for those who plan to cross into Tamaulipas in the days ahead: Watch where you’re going.

The travel advisory, issued Dec. 17, cites gunplay, kidnapping and other major crimes in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders the Valley, as well as Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan and Sinaloa.

It rightly reminds travelers that they will be in a foreign country, and thus U.S. officials’ ability to provide assistance is limited, if possible at all.

Most of the criminal activity of drug cartels, which are the source of much of the violence, is between gangs or against Mexican law enforcement, While foreign nationals have been targeted for kidnapping, extortion and carjacking. Mexican tourism officials traditionally say that people who stay in major entertainment areas, markets and other well populated places usually frequented by tourists, and thus heavily patrolled by police, open-street gun battles can break out anywhere.

Such advisories are hardly new; they have been issued with varying degrees of frequency for nearly 30 years, as drug cartels have grown in size, strength and brazenness. Mexico’s past two presidents utilized the military to try to fight the cartels, with little success.

Current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who just began his second year in office, pledged a less confrontational approach to reducing drug gang violence. He formed a National Guard to replace the military on domestic issues; so far little change has been seen, although the guard is still in the development stage. It remains to be seen whether or not a new approach will reduce Mexico’s high crime rate — or whether, for that matter, the cartels even care what the government’s strategy might be.

People who go to Mexico are urged not to travel alone or at night. They should be extra cautious near banks, ATMs or bars and nightclubs. Drivers should stick to major roads such as toll roads, and keep friends and family informed of their whereabouts at all times; include photos of any taxis they use and GPS location points if possible.

U.S. government employees have been told to observe a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. and to stay close to U.S. border crossings or embassies. They may not travel between cities after dark or hail taxis on the street, instead using dispatched taxis, Uber or other services that have been called directly. Travelers might consider applying the same policies to their own plans.

Fortunately, most border residents know where they’re going and whom they will visit, and already have an idea of what areas are safe and what should be avoided. This should reduce the chances of falling prey to criminals looking for a random victim.

Holiday travelers should know the risks of heading south of the border, and exercise caution in doing so. It’s the best way to better ensure that the trip will be memorable for the right reasons and that tragedy is avoided.