The holidays have now passed, and after making it through that busy season, many are beginning to plan their summer vacation. But this year, be warned; for those who travel south, the beach resorts of Mexico might not be as safe as they seem.
This weekend marked the 10th year for the very popular BPM Music Festival in the Cancun resort area of Playa del Carmen. Early Monday morning while the party was in full swing, a lone gunman at the festival approached an open window at the Blue Parrot Club and began shooting. As of this writing, five are reported dead and twelve wounded. At least two of the deceased were security staff attempting to protect their guests.
We all know that Mexico as a whole has garnered a reputation over the past few years as a violent, dangerous country, primarily due to the drug cartels. During the past ten years, more Mexican nationals have been killed in violent confrontations than the combined American casualties in both Vietnam and the Middle East. But the Mexican beach resorts frequented by Americans have always seemed, to many, as a secure place to visit.
A False Sense of Security
I was recently speaking to a family member who makes an annual vacation pilgrimage to the beach resorts of Mexico. He told me that after their family lands at the local airport in this particular Mexican resort city, they drive past heavily fortified military bunkers and police checkpoints hastily placed on streets throughout the town, finally arriving at their resort and into a great feeling of security. My concern is that if there is a need for these type of defensive barriers, then something isn't normal. It's not just business as usual.
For many years now, kidnapping for ransom has been a cottage industry in Mexico. As many who work in the international security world have told me, the only reason that you as an American have not been kidnapped while visiting Mexico, is because you were just not on any criminal agenda for that day.
With this recent attack by a lone gunman in Cancun, it reminds us that concerns of "lone wolf" shooters do not just exist here in the US, but at any location where large numbers of people gather.
International Resorts are a Target
Last year ISIS declared the beach resorts in France, Spain and Italy as legitimate terrorist targets. They did this because they know that most resorts have minimal security on their property and that an international clientele will be present.
While ISIS is not the primary security concern at Mexican beaches, there is the ever-present threat of becoming collateral damage during a cartel altercation or outright being kidnapped for ransom.
Remember, it was in 2014 that Mexican drug kingpin "El Chapo" Guzman was taken into custody at a popular beach resort in Mazatlan, Mexico, and last year, sixteen people were abducted from a restaurant at a beach resort in Puerto Vallarta.
Do not travel outside the United States without checking for travel warnings at the U.S. Department of State website: travel.state.gov. In addition, make sure to register all Americans traveling in your group with the Department of State Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov prior to departing the U.S. This process only takes a few minutes and ensures that during your travels, you will be notified via phone, text or e-mail of any emergency alerts affecting your listed destinations.
The same safety recommendations apply for international travel that apply right here at home:
If you see something, say something and, if caught in a violent event: Run, Hide, Fight.
International travel is still for many, one of our top recreational goals. And there is no reason to stop traveling. But just as we maintain our situational awareness when we visit our local movie theater, so too should common sense prevail when venturing abroad.