Wednesday, May 12, 2010

From The Desk Of Gerie Bledsoe

Almost every day our newspapers carry stories about the drug-inspired violence in Mexico, especially along the border with the U.S. A friend just told me that her husband refuses to visit their time-share in Mazatlan, a resort city on the Pacific coast, because of these reports. Surely, the Mexican tourist industry must be suffering.

Most recently the press reported that two or three of the Mexican drug cartels have formed an alliance against the infamous "Zetas" in the border-Gulf state of Tamaulipas. This state lies along the Rio Grande River--stretching from Nuevo Laredo eastward to Reynosa and Matamoros, across the river from Brownsville, Texas. Is this good or bad news?

Initially, the "Zetas" were a group of Mexican Air Force commandos in Tamaulipas who defected to the local drug runners several years ago, along with their heavy weapons and sophisticated surveillance equipment. They quickly earned a reputation for being the most vicious pistoleros in Mexico. Apparently, the established drug cartels feel that the former commandos are now a liability.

Some observers of the drug wars in Mexico actually think that the alliance against the Zetas will help to stablize matters along the border, and may constitute the first step in a truce with the Federal Government. Who knows?

For twenty-three years or longer, Americans have crossed the border at Laredo to participate in La Carrea Panamericana, the Border Challenge, the Chihuahua Express, and other motorsports events in Mexico. Except for one or two years, the Carrera has ended into Nuevo Laredo. There have been no incidents of violence against the racers or spectators, or any near misses anywhere along the route. (This year the event will end in Zacatecas, which is 426 miles southwest of Nuevo Laredo.)

In March I traveled with a group of racers from El Paso, Texas, 235 miles down to Chihuahua City to participate in Chihuahua Express. We spent four days in Chihuahua, including two days racing 800 miles around the region. We saw no signs of violence.

After crossing the border, we did avoid going through the city of Ciudad Juarez, perhaps the most troubled place in Mexico, but in Chihuahua City, we saw no trouble, just people going about their daily routines. The race route, moreover, was lined by over 240 federal, state, local, and auxiliary police.

It is safe to go to Mexico? Everyone should read the most recent advisories from the U.S. State Department. These reports repeat what I have been advising for years: most of Mexico is safe for tourists and visitors, but certain rules should be followed. For example: do not drive at night, travel in groups, and avoid sketchy neigborhoods. In particular, avoid the red-light districts and places where drugs are sold.

I plan to return to Mexico in October for the Carrera for the 13th time. In fact, my wife and I are building a home in San Miguel de Allende--down in central Mexico, something we would not do if we did not feel safe down there.

Please do not let the constant reports of bad news from Mexico prevent you from enjoying the racing, people, cities, landscape, beaches, and culture of this beautiful country. Sadly, our newspapers hardly ever report the good news.....but there is plenty.

La Carrera Panamericana is schedule for Oct. 22-28 this year. Over one hundred racecars, including about 35 from the U.S., have signed up already. The race will happen, rain or shine.

The Coyote Convoy will gather in Laredo, Texas on Oct. 15 for the trip across the border the next day and then down to the start of the race in Tuxtla Gutierrez. Please join us. Clearly, it seems prudent to take additional steps to protect those who plan to travel in the Coyote Convoy, but I expect it to be another crossing without incident.

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