The State Department has toughened its advice for Americans traveling to Mexico, responding to a surge in violent crimes against tourists here and complaints from Americans that they were not adequately warned by their government about the dangers.
A revised Consular Information Sheet issued Thursday says for the first time that the crime rate in Mexico City "has reached critical levels." It warns of a "marked increase in the level of the violence of the crimes committed, including what appears to be a significant incidence of sexual assaults in crimes committed against women."
"In several cases," it adds, "tourists report that uniformed police are the crime perpetrators, stopping vehicles and seeking money or assaulting and robbing tourists walking late at night."
The State Department does not recommend that Americans refrain from traveling to Mexico, but counsels them to "use caution" in practically any place in the country.
More than 15-million Americans visit Mexico each year, according to State Department figures, making it the most popular destination in the world for Americans leaving the United States.
Violent crimes against tourists have become practically a daily occurrence in Mexico City.
Jan Reid, 53, a reporter for Texas Monthly magazine, was shot several times during a robbery on April 20. He and three friends were abducted in the early morning in a taxi they hailed near Plaza Garibaldi, a well-known square. Reid is recovering in a Houston hospital.
Two German tourists, Peter Wurm, 56, and his son Frank Wurm, 31, were both shot in the legs on Sunday in a restaurant in the Zona Rosa, Mexico City's premier tourist neighborhood. Two men held them up just after they entered the restaurant. When the son threw down his watch, the robbers opened fire.
Tracie Hotchner, 48, a writer from East Hampton, N.Y., was robbed and sexually assaulted on a major toll road between Mexico City and the nearby city of Puebla at midnight on March 19. Hotchner came to Mexico with four suitcases filled with toys and clothing for the children of a working-class Mexican family to whom she has given charitable help.
Two armed men who appeared to be plainclothes police in an unmarked patrol car pulled over the taxi that was taking her to Puebla, Hotchner said. After forcing the taxi into a dark hamlet, they manhandled Hotchner and stole all of the goods she had brought for the children.
The head of the Mexico City Council's tourism commission, Maria del Pilar Hiroishi, said that an average of 20 tourists a day were crime victims last year. However, she said that reported crimes against tourists were falling slightly this year.