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Good Question: Is Mexico Safe?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last year 200,000 Minnesotans left this frigid, snowy land for the sun and the beaches of Mexico. But with a U.S. State Department travel warning still in effect, is Mexico safe?

“My boyfriend’s mom had some concerns, a lot of my friends’ parents were worried,” said Amanda Benarroch, a University of Minnesota student preparing to go to Cancun for Spring Break.

She said safety is something she checked out “after others seemed hesitant. I see we have a travel warning.”

Parents of students right now are asking questions, like Meg Brownson, who noted that “My son is going [to Mexico] for Spring Break … I’m very nervous about it.”

It’s understandable that there’s concern with recent headlines about beheadings in Acapulco and U.S. immigration agents being shot near Monterrey.

“You hear so much about crime going on but you don’t see it in the resort towns,” said Dave Ostlund, who talked with us while on vacation near Puerto Vallarta, overlooking Banderas Bay.

“We don’t see any crime here,” said Ostlund.

In September 2010, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Mexico and a spokesperson said that warning remains in effect.

But the warning focuses specifically on cities near the U.S.-Mexico border where the drug trade and organized crime has resulted in severe violence.

“I’d say it’s perfectly safe to travel to Mexico on a vacation,” according to Rodrigo Esponda, Midwest Director of Mexico’s Tourism Board.

Esponda said that there are concerns over crime in Mexico but he argued that they’ve been blown out of proportion.

“Cities like New Orleans have a much higher homicide rate than most of the states in Mexico,” said Esponda.

But he acknowledged that the border towns are potentially dangerous.

“Juarez has been a particular point of concern,” he said, while noting that Juarez is about 2000 miles away from Cancun.

Indeed, the travel advisory specifically singles out border towns, pointing out that millions of Americans safely travel to resort towns every year.

“Tourists are not a particular target,” said Esponda.

That doesn’t mean that tourists aren’t victims of crime in Mexico. Jim Guentzel and his wife Karen are headed back to New Prague from their vacation in Mazatlan.

According to Guentzel’s daughter, Lindsay, Jim Guentzel was robbed at gunpoint last week.

“He was going to the marina during the day to help out a local friend and as he was walking down to the docks, three boys on bicycles road up to my dad,” she explained.

“One of them pulled out a gun and demanded his wallet. My dad gave them his wallet, they took out the cash, threw the wallet down and road off,” she said.

“We completely regret that kind of activity,” said Esponda, in response.

But according to the U.S. State Department, crime in tourist areas is no worse than crime in many major American cities.

“You would be safer in an all-inclusive resort than anywhere else in a city,” said Esponda.

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