Texas DPS warns students to stay out of Mexico on spring break

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EL PASO — For the third year in a row, the Texas Department of Public Safety has issued a travel warning advising students to stay out of Mexico during spring break. It comes just days before the majority of students in Texas depart for spring break trips.

Mexico’s Ambassador in the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, quickly condemned the travel advisory in a statement issued by the embassy.

“As their number one trading partner and largest export market, Mexico believes Texas should be able to more objectively evaluate facts, providing nuance and context, and in doing so, dispel the notion that their motivation is a clear-cut political agenda,” he said.

A top tourism official from Mexico who met with Texas DPS authorities in Austin last week also responded.

“To paint Mexico with such a massively broad brush stroke is simply outrageous,” said Lopez Negrete, Chief Operating Officer of the Mexico Tourism Board.

In the travel advisory, Texas DPS Director Steven McCraw acknowledged that  “The Mexican government has made great strides battling the cartels, and we commend their continued commitment to making Mexico a safer place to live and visit,” adding this: "However, drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat, even in some resort areas.”

The warning then details the dangers with seven bullet points including, “some bars and nightclubs, especially in resort cities such as Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, and Tijuana can be havens for drug dealers and petty criminals.”

In the advisory, Texas DPS notes, “many travel to Mexico without incident, but that the risks cannot be ignored.”

The potential risks are one of the reasons that some students are staying away from Mexico this spring break.

“I want to go there, but at the same time I don’t want to cross over' not right now, not with the violence," said Sean Peterson, a junior at the University of Texas El Paso. Peterson planned to spend spring break on South Padre Island.

But plenty of students are flocking to Cancun. The Mexican resort is once again the top foreign destination according to Student City, a travel company specializing in spring break vacations.

In recent years, the tour operator saw Cancun slip from the top spot as visitors avoided Mexico. Last year, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic was the preferred Student City foreign destination.   

But this spring break, the students are back in Cancun. Many of the hotels are packed with spring breakers.

“We’re definitely going to Cancun. Eat a lot, party a lot,” said Mario Villegas, a junior at the University of Texas at El Paso, who planned to be lounging on the beach next Monday.

When traveling to Cancun on a family vacation, he said locals asked him about the dangers of living on the border near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capital.

Villegas and his friends had been working and saving up for the trip for several months and have no plans to cancel. He was not dissuaded by the Texas DPS warning.

 “I’m going to have fun no matter what,” he said.

E-mail akocherga@belo.com