Earlier this month the kidnapping and murder of U.S. citizens by armed assailants in Matamoros, Tamaulipas has put the spotlight on Mexico, which has millions of international visitors annually. The Americans reportedly crossed the border into Tamaulipas from Brownsville, Texas and were immediately intercepted by another vehicle at an intersection. Gunmen fired shots at the passengers, who were eventually transferred to another vehicle. Mexican officials later confirmed that two of the group were found dead at a rural location alongside the other two, who had survived.
Our current risk rating for Mexico is HIGH.
The security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. The most significant risk in Mexico is crime, including drug-related, petty, and violent crimes like robbery, assault and vehicle hijacking. There is a large presence of organised criminal groups across the country.
Although protests are often peaceful, there is a record of demonstrations ending in violent clashes with the police forces. Mexico is also vulnerable to environmental disasters, including hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes.
There are currently large numbers of migrants moving from Honduras through Guatemala to Mexico and beyond. This is having an impact on border crossings. Borders crossings at Tecun Uman (Guatemala/Mexico), Agua Caliente (Honduras/Guatemala) and Tijuana (Mexico/USA) are currently affected and subject to periodic closures.
There are 32 states in Mexico, and the US Department of State has a “Do Not Travel” advisories in place for six:
- Colima state due to crime and kidnapping
- Guerrero state due to crime
- Michoacan state due to crime and kidnapping
- Sinaloa state due to crime and kidnapping
- Tamaulipas state due to crime and kidnapping
- Zacatecas state due to crime and kidnapping
However, tourist destinations and major urban centres in the most part are relatively safe for travellers if the normal precautions are followed. Officials have emphasised that most of the country can be accessed safely. So, in answer to the question ‘Is travelling to Mexico safe?’ it really depends on where you are visiting.
- Based on the circumstances of the incident, with the U.S. nationals traveling to Matamoros for medical reasons, the kidnapping appears to be opportunistic in nature, likely carried out with the aim to extort the foreigners due to perceived notions of wealth. As such, the victims are unlikely to have ties with organised criminal groups. This hypothesis is supported in statements released by Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the FBI, and the victims’ relatives. Besides, despite President AMLO’s statement regarding the victims being caught in a turf war, videos of the incident released across social media platforms do not depict such armed confrontations in the vicinity.
- The incident also reiterates the threat posed by opportunistic crimes to tourists along the border crossings in the US-Mexico border areas, particularly in the high-crime border towns of Matamoros, Nueva Laredo, Reynosa, and Victoria in Tamaulipas. This is further evidenced by October 2022 data from the Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Publica (SESNSP), the executive secretariat of the national public security system, which reported that 74 percent of violent crime in Tamaulipas is concentrated in these four municipalities.
- In addition, tourists are also likely to be caught in the crossfire between rival organised criminal groups operating in Tamaulipas. Given the strategic importance of Tamaulipas for trafficking drugs such as cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine into the USA, turf wars close to the US-Mexico border are likely to continue, particularly between different factions of Cartel del Golfo and their rivals, Cartel del Noreste. This is also likely to result in armed confrontations between security officials and criminal groups, as witnessed recently by an attack on the Guardia Estatal, state guard, in Reynosa on March 4 and a shootout near the Ciudad Victoria Airport (CVM) between CdG members and Seguridad Publica de Tamaulipas, Tamaulipas public security, officials on February 28.
- As such, the kidnapping incident could potentially raise diplomatic tensions between the USA and Mexico, particularly over border security. This is escalated by the increasing levels of fentanyl trafficking, with the USA seizing over 6,350 kilograms of fentanyl along its southern border. U.S. President Joe Biden has received increasing pressure from the Republican party regarding the “serious border crisis”, following Mississippi senator Roger Wicker’s comments on March 6 about the Mexican side of the border being “policed by the cartels”.
- Thoroughly research the area you are travelling to.
- If you are travelling imminently and are concerned about the region, seek comprehensive guidance from your Travel Risk Management company.
- Travellers should maintain a high level of situational awareness at all times and prepare for what to do if they are involved in an incident. It is advised to leave that they area immediately, if possible, or take shelter at a secure location.
- Exercise caution and if suspicious behaviour or items are witnessed, leave the area immediately.
- Look out for local media updates and avoid trouble spots in major cities.
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