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US issues travel warning for parts of Mexico over increased violence

SAN DIEGO – The U.S. government issued a travel warning Tuesday for parts of Mexico, including Baja California, due to an increase in violent crime.

U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery in various Mexican states, according to the U.S. Department of State.  Shootouts between rival criminal organizations and with Mexican authorities have taken place in public places during the day, according to the warning.

"Criminal activity and violence, including homicide, remain an issue throughout the state," the warning stated.

U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas included in the warning, although there's no evidence that U.S. citizens are being targeted.

"Most recently, there was a murder of four people at a golf course in Acapulco," said Carl Winston, Director of San Diego State University's Hospitality and Tourism Program.

Winston said in June alone, Mexico saw more than 2,000 homicides, a 20-year record for the country.

"I think it’s largely Mexican on Mexican, but I think as tourists, we occasionally get caught in the crossfire," said Winston.

He said what is startling about the travel warning is the violence is now creeping into areas normally known as safe.

"This is a pretty important line that I think is being crossed," said Winston.  "You  think about Cancun and Mazatlan and it’s creeping into places that’s surprising to most of us."

The State Department warned that travelers should exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. The locations in Baja California noted in the warning included Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Tecate, Los Cabos, La Paz and Mexicali.

Other tourist destinations were also included in the warning, including Los Cabos, La Paz and Cancun. A list of locations was posted on the government's website.

"Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes," the government release stated. Mexican authorities tend to have extra patrols in tourist areas.

Kidnappings in Mexico take the following forms:

  • Traditional: victim is physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release.
  • Express: victim is abducted for a short time and commonly forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
  • Virtual: an extortion-by-deception scheme where a victim is contacted by phone and coerced by threats of violence to provide phone numbers of family and friends, and then isolated until the ransom is paid.  Recently, hotel guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.

"I’m a little bit surprised because I have traveled a lot to Mexico," said traveler Laura Schoen.

FOX 5 spoke with Schoen at Lindbergh Field. She said she goes to Mexico two to three times a year.

"In general I have found it pretty safe, but I  do think you need to pay attention to the warnings," she said.

Mike Brainard said he is still going to Mexico, despite the warning.

"Yes, in a heartbeat," said Brainard.  "It's  hard to believe anything that comes out of Washington with this administration. It’s all based on fear and it’s ludicrous really."