For the second time in less than a year, the U.S. State Department has expanded its travel warning for Mexico, urging Americans to stay clear of 14 Mexican states engulfed in a ongoing drug war between transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and government authorities.
The travel warning includes a state-by-state assessment of 14 states throughout Mexico and provides further information about which areas of those states are most at risk for violence. The new warning expands upon a 10-state advisory released in April 2011.
"Gun battles between rival TCOs or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, especially in the border region," the travel warning reads. "Gun battles have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area."
The warning provides further information about how U.S. travelers can avoid kidnappings, carjacking and highway robberies, advising people to avoid displaying any evidence of wealth and to stay off the roads at night.
According to the advisory, 120 U.S. travelers to Mexico were reported murdered in 2011, up from 35 murders in 2007.
In total, over 47,000 people including locals and expatriates have died in the drug war over the past five years, according to the Associated Press.
The drug war's increasing toll was evident this week as two separate reports surfaced of large-scale drug-related crime.
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the Associated Press reported that Mexican authorities had unearthed 15 bodies in two mass graves after being led to the sites by a suspected member of the Zetas drug cartel, who admitted to being a head lookout for the cartel.
The very next day, army officials from Jalisco, Mexico, announced a drug bust in which authorities seized 15 tons of pure methamphetamine, possibly trafficked by the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
National leaders have blamed the increase in drug violence in Central and South American countries on the continually growing U.S. drug market, where drug traffickers, addicts and recreational consumers all deal in drugs produced abroad without considering the toll their habits have on the people of those countries, the Washington Post reported.
"Our region is seriously threatened by organized crime, but there is very little responsibility taken by the drug-consuming countries," Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said at a December summit of Latin leaders in Caracas, Venezuela.
According the Washington Post, leaders from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and a host of other Latin nations were nearly unanimous in their opinion that the United States and Europe need to legalize drugs if drug consumption remains at current levels or continues to increase.
But a reduction in drug use seems an impossible goal in light of a report last year by the Global Commission on Drug Policy declaring that the "war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."
The 24-page report gave a dire outlook for the future.
"Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won," the report said.