Drugs, Violence and Safety in Oaxaca, Mexico

Advice and Common Sense for Tourists to Oaxacan State Capital Contrary to reports, advisories and innuendo, Oaxaca is not a city marred by drug wars, violence and safety issues. Prospective travelers should rest easy, plan, enjoy.

 Drugs, Violence and Safety in Oaxaca,

Drugs, Violence and Safety in Oaxaca,

Until 2006, parents feared for the safety of their children in their late teens and twenties regarding travel to Mexico, and in particular Oaxaca. They warned of bandidos and dysentery. Since then, as a result of US State Department advisories and warnings, and journalism, there has been a complete about face. Those same youthful adventurers, now in their fifties, sixties and seventies, are being cautioned about traveling to Oaxaca, by their over-protective and uninformed children.

Over the past ten years nary a tourist has been subjected to or targeted for violence while visiting the City of Oaxaca or its central valleys. Violent deaths and drug wars have by and large been restricted to Mexican border towns and cities, and ports. Oaxaca is hours from both the Caribbean and the Pacific, and at least two days’ travel from population centers which border with the US.

Compare daily newspaper reports of violence in the US and Canada, with life in Oaxaca. Truth be told, it’s much safer walking the streets of Oaxaca, than those of American and even Canadian cities. Oaxaca is free of gang turf wars, seedy neighborhoods, and low income housing developments which tend to perpetuate the culture of poverty and the frequent violence which oft accompanies it.

Social and Civil Unrest in Oaxaca

June, 2006, marked the beginning of a brief period of significant political unrest in Oaxaca, marked by violence, upwards of a dozen deaths, and more generally six months of unpleasantries in terms of the ambiance in and appearance of the city. But throughout it all, no tourists were targeted or even harmed, save and except for one thrill-seeking American who elected to video a march and was inadvertently sprayed with tear gas. During those months, both tourists and residents with common sense elected to avoid being near marches where conflict with state authorities was easily anticipated.

The problems of 2006 have long passed, though of course discontent with the social order remains, as has been the case in southern Mexico for decades if not longer. Teachers strike every May, and periodic protests and road blockades take place throughout the year. But factual reporting by media without an agenda confirms that such social movements in Oaxaca are generally devoid of violence – just as in the US and Canada.

Media Reporting of Oaxacan Unrest & Violence, and Government Advisories Newspapers, reporters, journalists and wire services in the Western World stay in business in part as a result of sensationalizing. Innuendo, as well as writing and reporting for a lay and often uneducated readership are often the order of the day. And of course there are those with an overt agenda; some might even state that Narco News and those who write for it constitute a case in point.

More often than not, when there is a newsworthy report out of Mexico relating to a tourist being harmed or killed, or drug-related violence, anywhere in the country, the newspaper article proceeds to remind readers of other untoward occurrences in other parts of the country, dating back months if not longer. Before the age of the internet, such articles stood on their own. Now, with print articles available online, there is an opportunity for readers to leave commentaries.

Such feedback is often from those with a clear bias against Mexico, be it relating to undocumented immigrants to the US, drugs, Mexican stereotypes, or simply a clear anti-Mexico sentiment based on racism, upbringing, or simple ignorance. But the internet can perpetuate and fuel adverse sentiment towards Mexico and Mexicans, and with it comes if not fear, then reticence towards travel to the country.

Western governments – those of the US and Canada in particular – are paternalistic, often having a constitutionally entrenched need to conduct themselves in a certain way viz. their citizens. Those same governments tend to be common law jurisdictions in which legal liability may extend to government. Accordingly, administrations must warn their flocks of any potential for harm against their numbers. Their travel advisories and warnings can refer to “reports out of Mexico,” without particularizing.

How Prospective Travelers to Oaxaca Can Obtain Unbiased Information Regarding Safety, Drugs and Violence

There are a number of ways in which prospective tourists to Oaxaca can allay their concerns, deal with their children’s paranoia, and obtain credible information relating to the extent to which it’s safe to travel to southern Mexico:

  • Ask the naysayers for the sources of their information about drug wars, violence and risk regarding travel to the City of Oaxaca and its central valleys, and then critically evaluate the “evidence,” if it is ever forthcoming.
  • People often visit Oaxaca based on the travel experiences of others. Ask friends, neighbors, co-workers and others about their personal experiences and impressions relative to their travels to the city.
  • Visit credible online travel forums such as that of tripadvisor, and request feedback from those who have recently traveled to Oaxaca.
  • Request in writing from government, particulars of information upon which it has based its travel advisories and warnings.

And finally, according to International Living’s 2010 retirement index for American retirees, Mexico stands second as the most desirable country in which to retire. The United States of American ranks a lofty 22nd. Safety and violence issues in Mexico? As the saying goes, location, location, location; certainly Mexico’s border towns bring the ranking down, but Oaxaca stands at the other extreme.

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