Our Two-Pesos: Today’s Travel Warning for Mexico – What Does it Mean?
Yesterday, Mexico joined a long list of countries — including Colombia, Eritrea, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran (among others) — on the U.S. State Department’s Travel Warning list (see page here). This Warning comes only three weeks after the State Department issued a Travel Alert for Mexico — one that used more than 80% of the same text as used in a previous Alert, and was the subject of our blog posting on February 25th, “Is New U.S. State Department Travel Alert on Mexico Fair?”
What has prompted this change — the “downgrading” of Mexico (in essence) from an Alert to a Warning? The sad facts are that over the last 48-hours, two incidents occurred in Ciudad Juarez that took the lives of two U.S. citizens (one of whom worked in the U.S. Consulate there), and another Consulate employee. The attack on these three individuals has provoked a reaction from President Obama and Calderon, and underscores the serious nature of direct attacks on diplomatic personnel in that city. This is the first case of such an incident in Mexico (at least in recent years, perhaps decades), and — despite the fact that it at this point appears to be a very specific incident in one city — Crossborder believes it will likely leave a lasting impression on the very dedicated U.S. Consular corp that works in Mexico, and the U.S. State Department personnel back in Washington.
The Warning (see it here) officially authorizes a temporary “departure of the dependents of U.S. government personnel from U.S. consulates in the Northern Mexican border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros until April 12.” In other words: spouses and family members of U.S. personnel at those Consulates are authorized to temporarily depart Mexico if they choose. This is the actual reason for the change from an Alert to a Warning — as internal policies by the U.S. State Department require that “[a] Travel Warning must be issued whenever a post goes to authorized or ordered departure status.” This statement, from the 2007 U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual (Volume 7, Section 7 FAM 056) would seem to indicate that this Warning is somewhat a technical requirement — not necessarily that the overall security situation in Mexico has changed.
A quick read of the actual text of the Warning would also seem to support this view (that the downgrading of the Mexico Travel Alert to a Warning may be procedural), given that the majority of the text is the same as the February 2010 Alert. It does not appear to be for the reasons that some other countries receive a Warning (e.g.: again from the State Dept. Manual, “Travel Warnings recommend that U.S. citizens defer or reconsider travel to a country due to a protracted situation that is dangerous or unstable.”)
That subtle distinction “why” the Warning was issued will, unfortunately, likely be lost on the vast majority of the public and in news reports. The consequence, however, won’t be so subtle: expect echos from this Warning to contribute to more losses in Mexico’s tourism and industrial sectors, as visitors and investors reconsider plans or delay decisions to visit or build. Such impacts not only affect Mexico (which already saw a drop in foreign investment by more than 50% in 2009), but also the North American economic engine generally — as legitimate small businesspeople in tourism communities across Mexico (and in U.S. border cities) are stressed further, U.S. investors that own shares in hospitality-related companies in Mexico see weaker earnings than might have been expected, and industrial developers (many of whom have U.S. interests) lose potential customers.
We should not forget to mourn those whose lives have been taken in service to the U.S., as occurred in Ciudad Juarez on Saturday. As several of Crossborder’s staff were conducting border surveys in Tijuana on that same day, however, we believe it also remains important to understand the broad nature of this Warning, to not misinterpret or overstate its meaning, and to continue to push toward stronger crossborder integration to improve the lives for all of those in North America. That’s our two-pesos.
FYI: Link to New State Department Warning on Mexico: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_4755.html
Link to U.S. State Department Consular Affairs Manual: http://www.state.gov/m/a/dir/regs/fam/07fam/c22698.htm