The U.S. State Department has listed six Mexican states as no-go zones and is advising Americans to “reconsider travel” to another 10 as drug-related crime and violence continue to roil. That’s the highest number of states labelled with travel warnings for Mexico in more than a decade.
The latest security alert was issued on April 18, and it flagged the central state of Zacatecas for “violent turf battles between cartels.”
“The state’s homicide rate in 2021 was more than double the previous year’s rate, and was the highest in Mexico. U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) have been victims of kidnapping,” the U.S. government wrote.
On April 1, the U.S. also marked Colima after “shooting incidents between criminal groups have occurred in public places where bystanders have been injured or killed.”
A month before that, another warning was published for the northern border state of Tamaulipas after alleged members of the Northeast cartel turned the city of Nuevo Laredo into a war zone when the Mexican army raided a house to capture one of its leaders.
In total, the U.S. has flagged 16 of Mexico’s 32 states. The 2022 blacklist for travel is the longest it has been in over a decade. A yearly count shows that the last time the U.S. red-flagged so many Mexican states was in 2010, when the homicide rate reached an all-time high.
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a nation-wide crackdown against drug cartels when he took power at the end of 2006. By August 2010, there were officially more than 28,000 drug-related deaths, the highest murder rate registered in Mexican history.
Back then, the U.S. listed five states and six cities as no-go zones: Tijuana in Baja, California; Nogales in Sonora; Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua; Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros in Tamaulipas; and Monterrey in Nuevo León.
The U.S. warning from 2010 said most violent crimes occurred in border cities and “resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major drug trafficking routes.”
A decade later, that is no longer the case. The violence has metastasized across the country, and the travel ban list includes not only states far from the border but also known tourist destinations like Tulum in Quintana Roo, Jalisco, and Oaxaca.
In 2021, Mexico registered over 33,000 homicides, according to official statistics. More than 7,000 murders have been registered in Mexico since the year began.
While Mexico’s president frequently repeats his security policy of “Hugs not bullets,” and has downscaled capturing drug bosses and operations, drug cartels are increasing their presence throughout the country and obtaining more powerful weapons.
Bilateral anti-narcotics efforts between the U.S. and Mexico are at something of a low, and recent reporting suggests that one of Mexico’s elite anti-narcotic units will be dismantled soon, jeopardizing decades of work with agencies like the DEA.