The Bad Stuff: Mexico is a developing country with its share of crime and violence, most recently: thousands of horrific brutalities in direct correlation with people involved in the drug trade industry. Reports of these kind have been widely publicized in recent months and years by various worldwide news outlets. These reports are accurate and detail the violence that has targeted members and associates of drug cartels and perpetrated by members and associates of rival drug cartels. Innocent bystanders and foreigners not associated with the drug trade have been caught in the crossfire, but are not the primary targets. The bulk of these violent crimes (kidnappings, murders, assaults, etc.) occur in the chain of towns along the Mexican-American border that spans approximately 1900 miles, as well as in the country’s capital—Mexico City.
Where Will We Be Located in Relation to the Bad Stuff?
We will be living on Isla Mujeres, a small island off of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, which is 1500 miles from the Mexican border (roughly the same distance that lies between Los Angeles, CA and Bismark, ND). The main economy on Isla Mujeres is Tourism and the nearest large city is Cancun (20 minutes by ferry). You can use the link below to check out a map (Thanks, Jon!), that illustrates the general risk of drug cartel-related violence where we will be living (in the state of Quintana Roo) in relation to other parts of Mexico that are troubled by the same problem. Click on the “Violence” section to the far right, then put your mouse over the dot labeled “Cancun” to read the stats for our area:
As you will see, in 2008, it appears there were 18 drug cartel-related deaths in the entire state of Quintana Roo, averaging out to 1.6 drug-related deaths out of every 100,000 inhabitants. We were able to retrieve a more definitive number for 2010: 42 drug-related deaths occurred in the state of Quintana Roo. Even with the inflated number for this past year, these statistics appeal to us much more than setting up shop in say, Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua, where the drug-related body count in 2010 was 2802.
Our landlords (who have traveled the world extensively and have lived on Isla for seven years) had this to say when we asked them to share their opinions on the level of safety that they experience in Mexico and specifically, on Isla Mujeres:
In our opinion, Isla is a very safe island. Our 18 year-old daughter was here for 3 days on her own at our casa recently and felt very safe.
As you know, there is a large Navy base here, as well as municipal and state police. Also if someone were to commit a serious crime, it might be tricky to get away unless you have a boat handy . Being on a small island limits most crime here to petty thievery. I understand that there are plenty of drugs available on Isla late in the evenings, but we don’t experience this aspect of the island, so I pass this onto you via the grapevine.
Yes, there is crime in Mexico. The drug cartels are horrible, and they do have a presence in all large cities, Cancun included. Are they interested in foreigners? No.
There is an element of barbarism to the crimes committed here, Mexican to Mexican, and the Mexican media likes to put gore on the front page of the papers – which seems to be a cultural thing.
Our neighborhood, La Gloria, is very safe. As a woman, I walk around here at all times of the day and night and never think twice about it. When a friend of ours from Los Angeles had to sell her home and move back to the USA, she stated that her biggest loss would be the freedom she had to roam around at night and not feel threatened for her safety as she experiences in Los Angeles.
On Isla, it is the rows of expensive homes on the playa that are prone to break-ins, because they are typically rental homes and the local kids that break-in to them have no connection with the visitors, and they know that there will be cameras, computers and extra cash lying around. Conversely, we are surrounded by neighbours with whom we are friendly or acquainted. Also, everyone on the street is aware of people coming and going. If we’re not here and someone pops by, a neighbour will usually come over and tell us.
Knowledge Is Power
You can read the official current US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Report on crime and safety in the Yucatan Peninsula here: https://www.osac.gov/Pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=10793.
A few key points shared in the report:
The Yucatan Peninsula has not suffered the same level of escalating violence seen in other parts of Mexico. However, the Yucatan Peninsula does remain a part of the nationwide narco-conflict underway in Mexico. Incidents of kidnapping, extortion, and other narco-related crime do occur within the region. There is no evidence to indicate that criminals specifically target American citizens or American interest. Criminals select victims based on appearance, vulnerability, and inattentiveness.
Reports of kidnapping and express kidnapping have increased in Quintana Roo; however, those targeted are reported to be involved in criminal activity or are perceived to have great wealth. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 there were no reports of kidnapping by organized crime affecting American citizens in Quintana Roo.
Aside from those statements, the report advises travelers or foreigners to maintain what we consider to be standard, intelligent behavior: know your surroundings, remain alert, say no to drugs, refrain from soliciting prostitutes, don’t drive at night or while intoxicated, avoid walking alone on deserted beaches on a dark night, etc.
Conversely, we also invite you to read some of these more alarming reports on the Borderland Beat website (warning: graphic). It is extremely tragic information, but please keep in mind that its focus is specifically on monitoring the incidents that take place in the Mexican-American border towns. The Borderland Beat website provides important and informative reports, and we’ll certainly refer to it over time to track news and reports if we ever have cause to travel through the border. However, its overall goal in researching and sharing information couldn’t be further from our own, and neither does it show the big picture in regards to where we will be living and the people we will living amongst.
The Good Stuff
We feel fortunate to be relocating to a community where contacts have been easy (and fun) to make in advance. We have found some great volunteer opportunities with local nonprofit groups whose efforts focus on education and welfare, a good way to build relationships and learn in-depth about the goings-on in the community. We also look forward to improving our Spanish, and are pleased to have located a local tutor on Isla to work with upon arrival. These are all things that we have researched not out of fear—but out of a keen desire to get as much out of our experience as possible. And they will certainly aid us in our ability to be aware, informed and involved in our new community, which we feel is better than sitting still, being afraid and doing nothing.
At the end of the day, we are at peace with the understanding that just as we run the risk of encountering extreme danger and violence in Mexico, so equally will we have the opportunity to encounter kindness, compassion and friendship from our future friends and neighbors on Isla Mujeres.
Additional Articles that we encourage people to read: