Violence a concern for Spring Breakers

March 18, 2009 2:46:09 PM PDT
More than 7,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since January. While the violence is largely contained to Mexico's border with the United States, the U.S. State Department recently warned, "Mexican and foreign bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country." The warning came just as Spring Break season warmed up.

Spring Break may look the same as in years past, but not all Spring Breakers feel that way.

If anyone saw those travel warnings and decided to stay home, it certainly isn't apparent in Cancun, Mexico. The hotels are full and the beaches packed in Cancun for Spring Break. There is a security presence here, but as you can imagine it's not the first thing on the minds of spring breakers.

Maybe it's a little naive to think college students would have the state department on their mind. This is after all Spring Break and it looks like spring break. There are plenty of people here, plenty to drink, not nearly enough sunscreen, and oh so much time to figure out what mistake to make next.

However, when you pry someone away from their beach towel or bottle, most of these students will tell you Spring Break 2009 is not as care free as the beach would have you think.

"We have a school newspaper and they told us not to come down here," said Texas A&M student Zach Robinson.

What the crowds don't reveal is that there are a lot of students who chose not to come at all.

"A lot of people from my college actually decided not to come here because of everything they heard," said Jena Croxton, a Texan on Spring Break.

Police here, and there is a fairly heavily police presence in Cancun, remind you often that no student has been targeted this year or in the past.

They are quick to point out that the vast majority of Mexico's violence is all along the northern border.

Crime and violence along the U.S. border from Tijuana to Juarez down to Nuevo Laredo and down to Matamoros is well known, as are the kidnappings and killings in Mexico City.

In recent months drug violence flared up in resort towns like Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Mazatlan and Cancun.

In Cancun, the police department is in shambles after the chief and his assistant were arrested and linked to murderous drug cartels.

"There are the kinds of people you would turn to in the event your little Johnny turns up missing on the economy. In essence you don't know who's working for what cartel in certain venues," said Fred Burton of Stratfor.

Likely worrisome for parents back home and part of the reason so many police officers are out in the open, even some with faces hidden. It's not exactly a postcard shot.

"Actually I feel safe seeing the police out like that than if I didn't see the presence of police at all," said Robinson.

Comforting. As is the reality that nothing has happened to mar this spring break. For this group of students from Texas - so far, so good.

There has even been a promise from the authorities that the tourist zones here will stay that way.

The Cancun Police said, "We have 100% control of that situation in those places where the tourists want to go."

What may go unsaid in that promise of security is just how badly they need to make sure it comes true. They know what's being said back home in the states and even one incident could be devastating to the all-important tourist industry down here.

- Read more of Ted's thoughts on a Cancun Spring Break

- Headlines at a glance