Every year between January and March, U.S. college administrations remind their students to exercise caution while on spring break. These well-meaning guidelines often go unread by their intended recipients, as do travel warnings issued to citizens by the U.S. State Department. Many regular visitors to Mexican resort areas believe they are safe from transnational criminal organizations (TCO), more commonly called cartels. These travelers tend to think cartels want to avoid interfering with the profitable tourism industry, or that they only target Mexican citizens; this is not an accurate assessment.
Nothing in the behavior of Mexican cartels indicates that they would consciously keep tourists out of the line of fire or away from gruesome displays of their murder victims. Violence related to the cartels is spreading, and while tourists may not be directly targeted, they can be caught in the crossfire or otherwise find themselves in situations where their security is compromised. TCOs, it should be remembered, are more than just drug traffickers -- they participate in extortion, robbery, rape and carjackings. And where cartels are fighting each other violently, local gangs are able to take advantage of law enforcement's resulting distraction to commit crimes of their own.
Mexico's Drug War
Violence between competing criminal organizations in Mexico has continued for more than two decades. In the last decade, this violence has escalated nearly every year: In 2006 there were 2,119 murders related to organized crime. There were 2,275 in 2007, 5,207 in 2008, 6,598 in 2009 and 15,273 in 2010. While official figures are not yet available for 2011, figures reported by media agencies demonstrate that violence did not drop substantially from 2010.
The core of the conflict revolves around the most valuable routes for trafficking drugs through Mexico. Several groups are waging a violent campaign for control of these corridors and the Mexican government is using the military to combat drug traffickers, adding an additional actor in the conflict. However, no part of the country has been immune to the effects of organized crime.