Sunday, December 31, 2006

Safe travels in Mexico
Dec. 29, 2006

For the most part, I try not to crab about the opinions of other writers in these pages. It just doesn’t seem professional.
But George Jonas’s scare piece last week on Mexico and Cuba was just too ridiculous to let slide. He contends he’s travelled a lot, but his comments read like somebody who never leaves home.
The point of the piece was to lament those puzzling Canadians who continue to like holidaying in sunny destinations that Jonas has chosen to categorize as “impoverished and lawless countries.”
He chastised such travellers for being tempted by cheap holidays when what they ought to be thinking about were the tremendous risks they were taking by visiting such places. “Get your tan in Arizona this year,” opined the Toronto writer.
His remarks would have rubbed me the wrong way regardless of the countries he singled out, given that I’ve travelled enough to see that it’s never that simplistic. But his selection of Mexico got under my skin even more. I’m very fond of the place and would count myself lucky to be living there.
Jonas points to the murders of Toronto couple Dominic and Nancy Ianiero earlier this year as examples of why any sane tourist ought to reconsider ever travelling to Mexico. Why, those Mexicans will slash your throat in a heartbeat, as happened to the couple on the eve of their daughter’s wedding at a high-end beach resort a couple hours south of Cancun.
I feel for the Ianiero family. But there’s nothing particularly Mexican about 11 months having passed and no murderer being caught. The same thing happens somewhere in Canada pretty much on a weekly basis. That’s the case in the U.S. as well, despite Jonas’s apparent belief that all is right in Arizona.
Nor was what happened to the Ianieros even remotely a typical thing to happen to a tourist in Mexico. Tens of thousands of world travellers pass unharrassed through Mexico every year. Even now, they continue to sleep in comfort and security in the five-star beds of the very resort where the Ianieros were killed, and equally safely in the one-star hotels and hostels of less prosperous neighbourhoods all over the country.
Travelling in a country with a dramatically different standard of living does require a certain amount of awareness. There are areas in every Mexican town where I wouldn’t walk with diamonds around my neck and a big fat purse dangling loose from my shoulder, but that holds true for parts of Vancouver, Toronto and Prince George as well. No need to tempt fate.
But there’s no evidence so far that what happened to the Ianieros has anything to do with that.
To date, no one has produced an impoverished and lawless Mexican who plotted the Ianiero murders. In fact, nothing was identified as even being stolen from the couple’s room. No motive has been advanced for their deaths, least of all one that conveniently turns it into a story of naive holidayers and evil Mexicans.
Far from accepting the Ianiero murders as cautionary tales for Canadian travellers who choose cheap sun holidays, we should see them as the tragic and isolated events that they were. What happened to the couple was horrible, but it’s got nothing to do with an overall risk to tourists.
We stayed not far from the Barcelo resort in the weeks immediately after the Ianiero murders, and were stopped in our tracks more than once at a news stand by graphic photos of the murder scene that ran in some of the Mexican papers.
The couple looked like they had been executed. Each bore the marks of a quick and brutal single cut to the throat. They were left for dead where they dropped.
Whatever the eventual explanation for such brutality, I’m willing to bet that it won’t have anything to do with Canadian tourists randomly singled out by impoverished and lawless Mexicans.
For one thing, the chance that such a Mexican could slip through the extensive security system that surrounds five-star resorts like the Barcelo is extremely unlikely.
Knowing how important it is for visitors to feel safe in Mexico, the country guards its high-end tourist resorts with hard-bitten security types, big iron gates, and real guns. If you were a typical Mexican looking to slip by the watchman at the Barcelo to kill a couple Canadians for no apparent reason, you’d really have to work at it.
For another, that’s just not how life unfolds in Mexico. Sure, you could be attacked while travelling there. But thankfully, you almost certainly won’t be.
The same can be said for Vancouver, where a young Korean visitor was beaten into a near-vegetative state four years ago. No warnings went out to tourists cautioning them to stay away from that city for fear of similar treatment. The attack on Ji Won Park was correctly interpreted as the awful and rare event that it was.
Bad things can happen anywhere, including Mexico. But mostly, they don’t.

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