Drug Violence, travel advice

Crime in Mexico, Cartels


  The drug violence in Mexico is real. And it corrupts some cities more than others. Sometimes its just a few people involved other times it effects whole states. Corruption may start small but as it festers and grows petty crimes kidnappings, car jacking all increase too due to this break down in law and order.

Location, location is the real estate mantra. The border cities, transportation routes, and some port cities account for most the violence. The drug cartels make their money supplying the American/world demand. We forget that America had an alcohol prohibition from 1919 to 1933 and the reason it was abolished was, it didn’t work and the rise violent criminal organizations (recall Al Capone, rum runners, Chicago). Today the money is huge the violence is real and on going. Some Narcos love the attention. They use Facebook and Instagram to recruit and brag. Occasional assassinations are done at 5-5:30 pm just to make the evening news. The more gruesome or shocking the act the more news coverage it gets. This is a turf war played out like matadors in an world arena, everyone watching. They have a ‘you can’t stop us attitude’. This is also what the North American prime time news thrives on. They rarely mention it is a supply and demand business, with the demand coming from up north. It is common knowledge the US Customs and Border Protection only catch about 10% of the drugs passing in front of them. The cartels even arm themselves with weapons purchased legally in America at one of the more than 6700 gun shops near the border who ask few questions.  


In the 1970’s Colombia was the main supplier of drugs to the United States. It was brought in by boat or airplane from the Caribbean to Florida and the southeast. The DEA started closing these drug highways and forced the Columbians to seek other routes to get their drugs into the US markets. That was Mexico. Mexico already had drug gangs sneaking marijuana across the border. The US border with Mexico was thousands of miles long over a hundred thousand vehicles crossed it every day. The cartels in South American decided these groups already had smuggling knowledge why not hire them to be the mules. Thus was born the ‘cash for kilos’. The Colombians would pay Mexican smugglers cash for each kilo of cocaine the Mexican traffickers could bring into the United States. And even better for the Colombians the Mexican smugglers would accept (product) cocaine instead of money. At the time it was a brilliant business move.

And it worked well for a while. The Mexican groups sold their cocaine and built their own distribution networks into the US. Soon they were buying additional cocaine to supply their networks.  


A day arrived when the Mexican smugglers told the Columbian cartels we will not do ‘cash for kilos’ anymore. We will buy from you (at a reduced price) and sell it ourselves in America. We are not your mules anymore we are the buyers at wholesale and sellers of retail, you produce for us. Both sides balked. The power of the Colombian cartels was slipping Pablo Escobar was dead the Medellin and Cali cartels were under attack. The Mexican groups were not afraid anymore.   

For a brief time the coke stop flowing. Then Mexicans played hardball and tipped the DEA off where the Columbian’s main west coast warehouse was. In September 1989 the largest bust of cocaine in the United States happened, 20 tons of Colombian cocaine and 10 million dollars were found in a San Fernando Valley, California warehouse.  All from an anonymous tip. The Colombian drug lords rolled over. Thus began the rise of the Mexican drug cartels. The Mexican Narcos now help supply the world with methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

Mexico is really two countries, one with a fast growing middle class, an expanding business and manufacturing base. The other is a dark underworld of bribes and corruption fueled with huge sums of drug money. The Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, true or not, was famous for the quote ‘plato o plomo’, silver or lead. Take my money or I will kill you. Many have no choice which ‘country’ they live in.   

Still more Canadians and Americans retire or relocate to Mexico than any other country. They are not involved in the violence and try to keep away from it. The Narcos reciprocate; retirees, tourist and expats have nothing to offer them except bad PR.  

General Safety

México has crime. Do not hide your head in the sand, take precautions. If you look like an easy mark in a big American city, you look the same here. The Mexican people list local crime as their biggest day to day worry. In towns with problems you will see guards by the ATM machines or cubicles allowing only one person in at a time. This is for your protection. Many of the homeless and beggars are from Latin and South America. They want to get to USA but can't and now are caught in limbo. When you are hungry you beg or steal to survive. Increasingly near the border deportees being added in the mix. They have families in America wife/husband children but the have been caught and deported. Because they have been caught illegally in America once they will NEVER be allowed back in. Family separation is common.

We lived for a while in a very nice Méxican city and our neighborhood had a soup kitchen around the corner for the homeless, drug addicts, and transients. My neighbors while wanting to help, hated the place because of the problems it brought (break ins, graffiti, muggings). 

Some cities have a breakdown from the top to the bottom, many of the border cities are like this. When the police are as corrupt as the narcos what does stealing mean if they won't get caught? When you are close to the border you will meet locals on the street who speak english well and want to help you. Many of these were kicked out of the American prisons system and are hustlers trying to make a buck, from you.

Do not walk around looking like a rich tourist. Do the locals have their pursues well guarded? Should you? Think like you live in a big strange city in America. Driving to a restaurant, hide the valuables you leave behind. Lock your home. Remember to most Mexicans you look like a rich foreigner that can easily buy new stuff.

Now that I have scared you, I have never in 30 years of traveling been a victim of crime here. (with the exception of being short changed at a bar or gas station)