The U.S. State Department has extended a travel alert for Mexican border towns and suggests that visitors to these areas exercise extreme caution because of ongoing violence involving drug dealers warring among themselves and police.
Now the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has chimed in with a stronger warning that urges college students to avoid parts of northern Mexico during spring break.
This includes Tijuana and nearby Rosarito Beach. The latter town -- for decades a festive spring break party destination -- has not been a focal point for violence, especially in recent weeks. On Tuesday its mayor, Hugo Torres, responded with this message:
"For decades Rosarito has hosted hundreds of thousands of spring breakers without major incident. With additional steps we have taken, such as starting a Tourist Police Force, they will be safer than ever this year and we look forward to welcoming them and ensuring they again have a safe and enjoyable visit."
"The violence we have had down here has been mainly between organized crime factions -- and we have had almost none of that recently. Tourists are not and never have been targets."
To be sure, the U.S. agency's warning represents a devastating and possibly unfair blow to a city trying desperately to regain the confidence of tourists, who are its life blood. During my recent visit I saw few tourists but sensed no fear among hundreds of lifelong residents and ex-pats walking the streets.
Rosarito Beach will host a pro surfing event April 3-5, and a Cinco de Mayo celebration in early May. I, for one, hope both are successful, well-attended events, as this town could surely use a boost.
-- Pete Thomas
Photo courtesy of Rosarito Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau