Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to Mexico

At the end of October we reported a sizable gunfight in Cabo San Lucas, previously thought by cruise lines to be isolated from the violence that's plagued other Mexican port cities on the west coast. As it turns out, just a couple days later there was a well-organized daylight armed robbery of an upscale jewelry store virtually across the street from the cruise ship pier in Puerto Vallarta - in the early afternoon while Holland America passengers were coming and going to their ship across the street.

Neither of these incidents directly targeted cruise passengers, nor were any directly involved, but these are the types of incidents which worry cruise lines and have caused them to cancel calls, because the violence could easily involve cruise passengers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In this case, the robbery was in the GAD jewelry store in the exclusive Plaza Galerias. A large number of Holland America passengers were reported to be in the square adjacent to the shopping mall at the time of the robbery. Reports say that two armed robbers stood guard at the door of the store while four more moved quickly through the crowded store to the more expensive jewelry, clearly knowing what they wanted and where it was. There were no shots fired, but the store manager was beaten severely in the head with a pistol by one of the men. The robbers told employees not to call the police, or they would return and extract revenge.

At the end of the robbery, all six men fled in different directions. There was reported to be a large police presence outside the mall. If they had been informed, and a gun battle broke out, the Holland America passengers in the square probably would have been involved.

The November 1 incident was brought to our attention by a reader who saw a single article about the robbery in a local Puerto Vallarta newspaper.

Cruise lines again are probably considering the situation. Holland America and Carnival continue to call at Puerto Vallarta. Princess suspended calls, but has signaled their intention to return during the winter season. Disney has also returned for the winter season.

Ports along the west coast seem to be in full damage control mode lately, stressing that the extremely violent incidents Americans are hearing about in the news are far away from their ports. If the subject of violence in their cities comes up, they tell you that there were only a few incidents which involved tourists and they were just minor
street crimes. Never mind the ones that happened to local citizens who weren't tourists.

A couple of weeks ago, Mazatlan organized a large press trip to show how much the city has to offer, and reassure media about the safety. They only seemed to invite people whom they knew would write positive articles and not ask probing questions.

In one interview resulting from that trip, the person from the tourist board said there had only been a couple of minor incidents "targeting" tourists, and he went into detail describing two street crimes. The interviewer never
brought up the widely-reported incident when a Canadian tourist (not a cruise passenger) was killed by gunfire in
the parking lot of his Gold Zone hotel when the target of a drug-related execution ran and the rival gang sprayed the area with automatic weapon fire trying to hit the fleeing man. It was true that the tourist wasn't a target, but it also certainly wasn't a "minor street crime."

In another interview from that same trip, another reporter talked about how he "didn't feel unsafe." But then again with the way these incidents pop up and then disappear quickly, one wouldn't feel unsafe. In the recent Cabo San Lucas incident at a shopping mall, there was no inkling of trouble until the armed men, who were apparently hiding out from police in the parking lot were spotted by police and opened fire with AK-47's. Police returned fire, but it quickly stopped as the men fled into the mall, and shoppers were pinned down for hours, not wanting to come out while police searched, in case the gunfire would erupt again.

That same reporter who felt safe, also reported on the safety of the cruise port and interviewed the port manager. They talked about the 20-foot walls around the port, the guard tower, and the way tour buses can drive right up to the cruise ships so passengers never have to walk outside the port. The reporter never asked the obvious questions about if Mazatlan is so safe, why the port felt it necessary to build 20-foot walls around the port so most cruise passengers won't be exposed to the area around the port.

The Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta incidents seem to demonstrate that this "pop up" violence is spreading in Mexico, and can crop up even in areas thought to be "safe." The Puerto Vallarta incident especially is an example of the type of violence that cruise lines have feared most.

With the 2011-2012 winter season just beginning, and most cruise lines beginning to relax and return to their established Mexican Riviera itineraries, it's going to be interesting to see how the cruise lines respond.

The original article appeared in the November 28, 2011, edition of Cruise News Daily.