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The e-mail from my cousin in Mexico was fraught with anxiety.

She had lived in Puerto Vallarta for many years, and had settled down and married a wonderful Mexican man. Their life in Puerto Vallarta had been a simple one, but a happy one. They were both happy at their jobs, and life in this scenic west-coast resort city was buoyed by the constant stream of tourists from the visiting cruise ships. And this blessed white-washed city seemed to be a million miles away from the violence raging in much of the rest of the country.

But this letter was different. They’ve finally struck here, she wrote. The drug wars have finally reached us. The other day, someone tossed a grenade into a popular nightspot in town. And Puerto Vallarta would never be the same. The cruise ships and the tourists would stop coming, she worried. And when that happened, many of the jobs would vanish.

Her letter sounded, to me, like a mixture of shock, fear, and despair. And it reminded me of the placid country and the welcoming people that I used to love.

I remember well the brilliantly-colored floats on the canals at Xochimilco, where all sorts of waterborne vendors would glide up to your boat, and you could munch on freshly-picked ears of corn or just-rolled burritos or enchiladas, or just buy a beautiful bouquet or a piece of jewelry for your loved one.

I remember the murals of Diego Rivera at Mexico City University.

I remember the magnificent Zocalo in Mexico City, not only the central plaza of this metropolis, but also the soul of a nation.

I remember the mariachi bands gathering in the square each night, hoping for a gig.

I remember climbing the steps of the awesome pyramids at Teotihuacan, and looking down at the grassy fields which once served as a sort of lacrosse field (on which the losers never got to go home with their heads still attached).

I remember the magnificent natural setting of Taxco, the mountaintop city of winding alleys and red tile roofs and broad plazas and church steeples and wandering pigs and wonderful aromas wafting from open windows with chipped red or green frames and skilled artisans who created magnificent pieces of jewelry from raw silver.

And I remember Las Mananitas in the town of Cuernavaca, a world-class restaurant with whitewashed courtyards and rich woods inside and beautiful peacocks wandering haughtily around the grounds as if they owned the place, and memorable culinary creations from one of the best chefs in Mexico, and candlelit dinners at which you could linger for hours. A couple of months ago, Cuernavaca, too, fell victim to the violence. To the murders. To the bodies dumped in the streets.

Right at our doorstep, a beautiful country is slowly bleeding to death. And all we can do – all I can do - is watch.

And worry for my cousin.

Steve Winston

www.stevewinston.com

steve@stevewinston.com

BLOG: www.stevewinstontravelwriter.wordpress.com

Steve Winston has written/contributed to 16 books, and his articles have appeared in major media all over the world. In pursuit of "The Story," he's been shot at in Northern Ireland, been a cowboy in Arizona, jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades, flown World War II fighter planes in aerial "combat," trained in the jungle with a rebel militia, climbed 15,000 foot peaks, trekked glaciers, explored ice caves, and driven an ATV up an 11,000-foot peak in the Rockies, and - even scarier! - back down again...with the outside wheels hanging over the edge of a cliff with a 3,000-foot drop.

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Comment by Steve Winston on October 14, 2010 at 12:08pm
Again, Dear Las Villas...

I emphasize that my writing on my blog is my own personal opinion, perception, feeling, etc. And it's fine for peope to agree or disagree. I could post a story I just saw yesterday about more violence in Mexico - and what it's doing to the fabric of the country - but I'm not sure what we're really debating here. And, furthermore, my purpose is not to debate. And it's not to report - or else I'd be a reporter on the ground in Mexico. Actually, I do have a number of souces besides the "headlines"...my cousin, as I mentioned in my original post, as well as a few others. And I noted Cuernavaca because there had been a drug-related assasination there a few days earlier. My blog is an outlet for relaying my own personal feelings about a place...as most travel blogs today are. And I can't NOT write about a place because it may hurt that place. I believe my feelings for Mexico were amply demonstrated in the blog post, as well as our subsequent conversations. I don't "create" sensationalism on my blog - I just talk about my own experiences, perceptions, and feelings. I think you may have more of an issue with the news media that actually reports from Mexico. I do wish you - and, most of all, Mexico - well. I
Comment by Las Villas de Bellavista on October 14, 2010 at 11:18am
Dear Steve-I have always tried to comment respectfully but do like a debate and adhere to "respectfully agree to disagree". What I think is important is that as a travel writer, personal experience and writing about that is far more informative than opinions based on hearsay or rumor or culled from what is passed off as "news" in these days of commercialized news programs with an agenda. When you say "Cuernavaca, too, fell victim to the violence. To the murders. To the bodies dumped in the streets", The streets of Cuernavaca? When? This is a city of close to 400,000 people (grows to about 1 million on weekends) and once the drug lords such as Beltran Leyva and his group were routed out of Cuernavaca as my comment previously detailed, there has been no narco murders of street sellers in the neighboring municipalities and no more mutilated bodies (2) hanging from a bridge in front of a ritsy mall-all meant to instill fear and shock. But that impression that you wrote about lingers in the press, in blogs and the consequence is that businesses in Cuernavaca are bleeding to death. The Spanish immersion schools (over 65 in Cuernavaca) are dying like fllies and some with 30 years of operating are seeing contracts nullified as universites are using this protracted image to send students, not just out of Cuernavaca, but out of Mexico! The businesses that thrive off of the schools´ visitors such as laundromats, shops, restaurants, bars, discos, and tourist venues are going broke. Talking with business people in Cozumel and Cancun who operate hotels, restaurants, time-shares and real estate have said that there are few tourists, so no business and they come to Cuernavaca to find the same climate. That is why I think that if one is to write a travel blog, then perhaps it has more verisimilitude to report on actual experience instead of cherry picking from headllines to develop an opinion. This is a fantastic and complex country that few Americans really know and hopefully as Mexico-lovers we can difuse this image not by "And all we can do – all I can do - is watch" but by writing responsibly. It might help if Americans addressed their role in this drug war instead of pretending to be onlookers...
Comment by Steve Winston on October 13, 2010 at 11:39am
Dear Las Villas - I do appreciate your comments on my blog. But I think we can respectfully agree to disagree. Certainly, America is the most violent country in the world. And certainly, American cities are the most violent in the world. And this is covered by the media every day, hundreds of times a day. And, yes, there's certainly some sort of a connection between some of the crime in American cities and what's going on in Mexico. But I'm not looking at the situation as an objective "reporter." And I certainly have no interest in "sensationalziing" what's going on in a country about which I have very strong feelings. I thought long and hard before posting that blog, because I didn't want to add fuel to the fire on an issue about which most Americans really have very little understanding. I'm merely looking at it as a travel writer who has wonderful memories of Mexico and the Mexican people...and who is filled with sadness about what I see (and hear is) going on there. Again, I appreciate your thoughts. And I think we can agree to respectfully disagree (in contrast to most of the politicians running for office in America!). And I hope you agree that we can respectfully disagree. - Steve
Comment by Las Villas de Bellavista on October 13, 2010 at 11:23am
Once again, to only superficially deal with the headlines does only one thing and that is to instill fear of a whole country and that is what your initial posting did as you related how Mexico USED TO BE. I can only report from a personal knowlege of how things are on a daily basis in our state of Morelos, which you talked about in your post. What is happening in the border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua is COMPLETELY different as to what is happening in the rest of this country of 32 states and close to 150,000,000 people. There was an American killed who ventured into an area where there were warnings from the State Department not to go there as this is obviously a transit route for the Zetas. As you may know the Zetas are rennegade American trained special army forces who defected to join the cartels who hired them for their "expertise". They then started their own cartel and operations which is why they operate at the borders and transport routes. Why the tourists had not informed themselves of this dangerous area would be like my going to the Iraqi border and being surprised that there is a war going on. The police chief that was murdered was obviously involved with these Zetas because he was in charge of this area where the American was shot. And the plot thickens... These groups are getting desperate because they are now attacking the police stations which you failed to mention specifically when you simply mention that grenades were tossed last weekend. You make statements which are simply false like "Even more injured". Perhaps one reference to something, some actual data to bolster your comments and your perception that the situation grows worse every day. Here in Cuernavaca, the opposite is true. We have had no murders related to the narcowars since the incidents 3 months ago. No drive by shootings, no kidnappings of children who are then molested and killed, no school shootings, no army base shootings of dozens... There is obviously a war going on and it entails TWO countries primarily, with violence and bloodshed not only in Mexico but in the States as well as the gang violence in the inner cities is all related to the same business, but the press does not want to report the correlation. So my question is, what happens to the tons of coke, meth and pot that crosses to the US? This is all distributed in peace and harmony between the US gangs? The Crips and the Bloods are not killing each other off with their drive by shootings of toddlers and innocents? Murder is murder regardless of the gruesome outcome. I agree with you that this is a beautiful country, but I also would ask that you and others who "report" on Mexico do so with responsibility because Mexico is bleeding to death, not so much from the Narco Wars, but from their weakened economy which survives on tourism as the number 2 income after oil, but is facing collapse from this kind of sensational "reporting".
Comment by Steve Winston on October 13, 2010 at 9:33am
Addendum to my blog above, and to the comments below...

A police chief beheaded over the weekend. An American killed on the border. Grenades tossed last weekend. More than fifty people dead over the past few weeks. Even more injured. People in El Paso can hear gunfire from across the border. The situation grows worse very day, it seems to me; one of the drug gangs is even made up of former commandos in the Mexican army. Needless to day, there are spots in Mexico that have remained free of violence. But I stand by the statement at the end of my blog - "Right at our doorstep, a beautiful country is slowly bleeding to death."
Comment by Las Villas de Bellavista on October 1, 2010 at 4:05pm
Oops, not done yet. These homes are bought by the wealthy and that includes criminals with the complete knowledge of the realtors who sold them the homes, by the mayors, police chiefs and more often than not, the governors who may or may not be given hush $$. This all came to an end when Pres. Calderon declared a war with no idea of how this would play out. The capos were flushed out of Cuernavaca and their luxury estates, leaving the small town traffickers without protection of their respective gangs. So they started killing each other in the indigenous communities where selling street drugs offers employment, since there are little options for the 40 million people living in poverty (about the same amount in the US, right?) other than to go to the States as illegals. The indigenous communites have been notorious for vigilante justice and grusome ways to met that out. In Xoxocotla for instance, rapists have been caught infraganti, hung and burned by the townspeople and so when they mutilate a body and then hang it off the freeway to shock the wealthy as they drive their kids to private schools and ritsy shopping malls, this is "news" for weeks with travel advisories from the State Department! The sad thing is that according to the UN, Mexico has one of the lowest rate of assaults on tourists than most countries in the developed world.

What just happened in Ecuador, is what happened to the mayors of the Northern States in Mexico. The mayors were ambushed and killed by their own police forces for labor and land disputes, not because of any link to the ubiquitous term, "organized crime". Some killings and imprisonments are even thought to be political acts to preserve power in this election year, such as what has just transpired with the Michocanazo debacle.

As long as there is a 40 billion dollar business thriving on BOTH sides of the border, the transportation routes will be a target for illicit activities-just like during Prohibition and during the 80´s in Miami and this is where the violence will continue to occur-just like the violence that we occasionally see published in the US press when 22 people are shot in one day in South Chicago!

What we have NEVER experienced in Mexico is the US daily news of some crazed gunman/gunmen holding children and adults hostage or co-workers and then shooting them in cold blood. We have NEVER had a school shooting like Colombine or W. Virginia Tech, UT, etc. So Steve, too bad you weren´t here for the Bicentennial Celebrations where 20,000 Cuernavaqenses celebrated together in the town center, dancing, singing and enjoying the performances till dawn. Too bad you are not going to be in the Historical Center tonight enjoying Cuban Son, Celtic Dancers and African drums all playing live in the many open cafes and galleries. Cuernavaca is spectacular after our catastrofic rains with everything green and in bloom. Too bad fear prevails versus reality...
Comment by Las Villas de Bellavista on October 1, 2010 at 3:28pm
Steve,
No need to worry. Mexico is not bleeding to death anymore than New Orleans or Washington DC. I have lived in Cueranvaca for the past 26 years and the sensational press is just that. There is no in-depth reporting sadly to say which gives this image that all of Mexico is at war. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But it takes looking farther than the alarmist front pages that are covered not once like in the US press, but repetitively, giving the impression that there are car bombs and grenades going off everywhere. NOT! The grenade launched in PV was at a bar that tourists and most nationals would not venture near, when only employees were there at 1AM which was found to be a settling of scores.. This case was resolved in less than a month, as most of the other incidents that have occured concerning the international cartels (Colombian,Mexican, Itallian, Chinese, African, etc.) of drugs, assault weapons (from the US), contraband and human trafficking etc. that includes well-known gangs in US prisons and corrupt custom officials on both sides that allow tons of drugs and guns to be shipped every week-too much for the illegal migrants to forcibly carry 1 kilo sacks as the anti-immigration fear-fanning fanatics would like other xenophobics to believe as they turn a blind eye to the basics of capitalism: NO CONSUMING MARKET, NO BUSINESS, NO PROFIT.

We are all living very normal lives here in Cuernavaca. But because people come here, sometimes with absolutely no knowledge of the history, culture, and political intrigue, what occurs here is reported with a very superficial slant and without a story. The recent violence last Christmas was due to an acceptance for many years of co-habitating with very rich, but questionable characters. Mexico has always been a draw for unsavory people escaping a past. This was related to me by my grandmother who lived here in the early 1940¨s!

As you may know, Cuernavaca has the highest per capita income for all of Mexico. The very wealthy have their multi-million dollar homes here on immense properties.
Comment by Steve Winston on September 30, 2010 at 3:44pm
Rose,

Thanks so much for your heartfelt letter about my blog post. I really apprecaite it.

As for your upcoming trip to Mexico, I wish you and your family a wonderful, joyous, and sweet time. I'm sure it will be a very special day. Enjoy the wedding!

Steve Winston
Comment by Rose Cerato on September 30, 2010 at 1:08pm
Hi Steve,

I read your blog and share some of the same wonderful travel experiences that you have had in Mexico. One of my favorite places to stay is Las Mananitas which leaves you with a everlasting impression of a beautiful cultural experience.

Being from Arizona, I work with some of the Mexico Tourism offices in promoting travel to Mexico. The drug wars have have crept into some of the most beautiful Mexican cities and you are right, all we can do is watch but that does not prevent me from traveling to Mexico.

Next month, I am traveling to Patzcuaro in Michoacan to take part in my nephews wedding to a beautiful Mexican woman that is from there. I can't wait to see a traditional Mexican wedding and visit Mexico's Colonial Heartland with my family. I'll blog about the trip when I return.

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