BY INSI

SAFETY ADVISORY: Mexico as at 26/03/13 (update)

INSI has received new information from its contacts on the ground with regards to travelling and working in Mexico and is issuing the following updated safety advisory.

If you have any further questions or need any advice please contact us at INSI.

General comments

The security situation in Mexico is dominated by the drug war and cartels, who are responsible for an estimated 60,000 deaths since 2006. In December 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto pledged to crack down on gang-related crime by 2013 and established a 10,000 strong para- military security force to tackle the situation.

Much of the violence was attributed to the Los Zetas cartel and initially the most serious cartel violence was in northern Mexico, in areas such as Chihuahua. However, in recent years the violence has spread to Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Veracruz. Earlier this month an online journalist was gunned down by unknown assailants in the border town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua. According to reports the journalist's camera was taken but authorities did not consider theft to be a motive. It is unknown to date why he was killed.

The situation in Mexico for journalists is incredibly challenging. Journalists are being targeted for many reasons, so it is advisable for foreign journalists to be prudent about what they say and in whom they confide with regards to what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve.

Covering the cartels, violence or corruption will increase risk levels considerably and your risk assessment must be thorough enough to cover all eventualities. It must be done prior to travel and then assessed as the story progresses.

Journalists working in Mexico need to know which drug gang and/or which government officials are in charge when visiting a state. In some states the army can be trusted, in others not. Journalists need to gather all this information before travelling.

As a journalist who works in Mexico has just told INSI “I don't trust anyone except the local journalist of a state and they must have been recommended to me by someone I know.”

It has been known for journalists to be on the pay role of organised crime organisations, so do have this in mind.

Threats in the states outside of Mexico City

The state of Guerrero is especially dangerous at the moment due to the presence of smaller armed gangs which make money from kidnapping.

The states of Coahuila and Michoacan (especially along the coast) are also very dangerous and caution should be exercised there. Be wary of taxi drivers and children, when working in certain areas of the country, as they are often on the payroll of organised crime.

At the airport

Consider buying a local SIM card. These can be bought at the airport in Mexico City. A 3G card from IUSACELL can also be bought there.

Travelling in Mexico City

The risk of kidnap is high for wealthy Mexicans, and some foreigners have been targeted, so the lower the profile, the safer travellers are. Those displaying wealth are more likely to be targeted, so it is advisable to stay low key and low profile when travelling.

The majority of kidnappings occur as a result of the leaking of inside information – i.e. via drivers, security and domestic staff. Keep your plans tight and vary routes and timings of travel. The risk is real.

A trusted driver with local knowledge is essential, particularly if new to Mexico or if you don’t know the area or culture well. Although it is costly, the best way to move around is with a trusted private driver who will take you to locations and wait for you until you have finished. A trusted fixer is also essential, and an interpreter if you do not speak Spanish.

Try to find a driver through personal recommendations, or via one of the better known hotels.

Consider using a local low profile vehicle (not a SUV).

Good security comes at a price, and should be factored into your budget, if you feel it is required; low profile security is always best.

Muggings, carjackings and armed robbery can be fairly common in Mexico. There has been an escalation in reported carjackings in the Monterrey area and cases of false road blocks are on the increase. Car jacking and armed robbery have also been recorded on the Pacific Highway.

Theft is common on public transport, particularly on the urban “micro” buses, so keep an eye on your belongings if you have to take this method of transport, or choose another way to travel. 

If you need to use taxis, try to use official taxis marked TAXI SEGURO located around the airports and hotels. These taxis are slightly more expensive but have a good reputation, as they are part of a trusted network.

Mexico City's green taxis are now a thing of the past. City cabs are all a drab two-tone combination of red and gold. Official Mexico City taxis are numbered and start with A or B. Always check that there is an official photo ID on display as well.

Journalists should also be careful about car number plates. Travelling in a state with plates from a different part of Mexico is likely to call unwanted attention from both organised crime and the authorities.

Checkpoints

It is likely that you may, at some stage, have to go through a security checkpoint. If this is the case, consider keeping photography and radio equipment out of eyesight if travelling by car.

Keep copies of passports to show at checkpoints, in case the originals are lost or tampered with. Sometimes the authorities may want to see the originals but try to get away with showing them the copies.

Be cautious of the authorities as corruption is rife in Mexico and bribes are commonly asked for.


Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist the international traveller in being prepared to work in Mexico and are not meant to be negative in nature. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems as a result of this advice.

Photo: Police secure the area where the body of Mexican police reporter Marco Antonio Avila Garcia was found south of Ciudad Obregon, in Sonora state, May 18, 2012. Avila Garcia was abducted by three masked gunmen a day earlier. (AP Photo/El Diario de Sonora)