Safety and Security in Mexico: On the Coast and in the State Capital of Oaxaca

Safety and Security in Mexico: On the Coast and in the State Capital of Oaxaca

The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, its capital known for the best cuisine in the country and its central valleys for mecal production, artisan villages and ruins, still gets a bad name for alleged violence and safety and security concerns. In recent years, its pristine beach resorts such as Huatulco and Puerto Escondido have received the brunt of unfavorable media reports. All this despite the fact that as long as reasonable precautions are taken, tourists should feel even safer than in their hometowns outside of Mexico.

Oaxaca is generally a safe country for tourists. Mexican citizens are vigilant and so are visitors. The former are learned from a very early age, while the latter need some instruction.

Kidnapping. The bad guys target the rich for ransom. While they may not be that smart, they know that kidnapping a tourist is no guarantee of a big payday. Thus, they kidnap those (mostly women and children) whose families reasonably believe they have significant financial resources. Some people flaunt their wealth by driving Mercedes and wearing flashy gold jewelry. They and their family members are the targets, not you the visitor. These residents live in large homes in wealthy parts of the city. They own a very successful retail and wholesale business. The owner of a well-known construction supply chain was kidnapped twice over a period of about 15 years. This target probably already has a 24/7 bodyguard.

My wife wanted to buy a Mini Cooper, the only small car she really liked. She wanted red. We live in a semi-rural suburb of Oaxaca. Most of our neighbors are of fairly modest means. Why draw attention to us? I suggested that the gray Mini and the two stripes it comes with be removed from the dealership. Although the Mini logo remains, the car is now much more unobtrusive and more or less blends in. And although our house is large, it is distinguished by traditional construction and is quite hidden by large plants that bloom throughout the year. It looks modest compared to the modern homes that were recently built by several neighbors; those who park their black SUVs and sleek Audis in their three garages.

theft. The 80-year-old upper-class mother of a friend from Canada visited Oaxaca. I met with her to advise me on what to do where and when and about safety. I suggested she get dressed. She replied that she always does when she travels, even though she was wearing designer clothes and expensive earrings and a necklace at the time. Her companion and I looked at each other in disbelief.

If point and shoot is enough, leave the camera with the $3000 lens at home. Alternatively, when you’re walking around the markets, keep your camera and bag in a nondescript polyurethane bag that you can get pretty good all over the state for 5 – 10 pesos. This is what the locals use when they shop at the market. Sure, you’ll probably still look like a tourist, but you’ll be less likely to be the target of thieves than the next tourist walking by.

Listen to what the locals tell you. I advised a white American customer not to go through the Central de Abastos Oaxaca market on Saturday, the busiest market day, because thieves target passers-by, both Mexicans and foreigners, on that day much more than others. A few days later I was talking to her and she said, “I just went to Abastos on Saturday to figure out when I should take the colectivo on another day.” Her gold earrings were ripped right out of her ears.

When in markets, be especially careful in crowded places or if groups of people, even women, seem too close to you. Swarms of women have been spotted in several weekly market towns near Oaxaca. You’re scrambling and the next thing you know your wallet, purse or passport is missing. Keep your camera and bag close to you and leave your passport in your hotel room (but keep your tourist card photos and passport photo page with you). Backpacks are also an easy target, so keep them in front of you if you must. For a day trip, take only as much cash as you might reasonably need and one credit card. You certainly don’t need your New York driver’s license with you.

Assaults and worse. Bad things happen to good people all over the world, all the time, in their hometowns and villages. Oaxaca, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido are no different. There are pockets of urban areas known for assaults and robberies around the world, and here is no different. Stealing is usually the main motivation, so suit up again and listen to what the residents tell you. Ask about going out after dark and if there are certain areas to avoid during the day or night. Some areas in and around Oaxaca City even have neighborhood watch groups to deal with the recent spate of robberies and thefts. Women and youth seem to be targets, possibly because of a sense of lack of physical strength, and the former are where sexual predators lurk. For this I suppose the type of dress should be a consideration; the less provocative someone thinks you are, the less likely you are to run into trouble. Call me out of touch or sexist if you like, but parts of the world are still pretty misogynistic, so heeding a little advice can go a long way in avoiding trouble.

Epilogue. The state of Oaxaca is essentially safe and secure for residents and visitors alike; men, women and children. If it wasn’t, I and many others who live here but were born and raised outside of Mexico would not have chosen to uproot and move. For most of us it wasn’t the climate or the cost of living, but rather the lifestyle, the many rich cultural traditions and the safety. But we all take reasonable precautions, no more and no less than in our home countries.

For visitors, just remember that those who warned that Mexico is not safe are probably people who have never visited the country and rely on sensationalist media reports or paternalistic warnings from the State Department to form their opinions and secure food for their advice.

#Safety #Security #Mexico #Coast #State #Capital #Oaxaca

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *