NOGALES, Sonora — The headlines make us wonder: Are we talking about the same city?
We read about how unsafe it is here on CNN or in the Arizona press. We hear about the perils of visiting us in the Mexican press. We see the dangers of visiting us in foreboding red print when we visit Traveladvisor.com online.
If we heeded all those warnings, it’s likely those of us in Nogales would never open our doors in the morning.
Why are we so dangerous? The answer is, we’re not, but that doesn’t stop the U.S. State Department from trumpeting this message.
This verdict, a “travel warning,” counsels Americans to “limit travel to main roads during daylight hours,” avoid “nonessential travel” and “exercise caution” because Nogales is “a key region in the international drug- and human-trafficking trades.”
Yikes. Let’s go somewhere safe like Gaza or Kabul this weekend.
Well, we hate to impugn the work of U.S. diplomats or destroy an Al Capone myth. But the fact is, you’re safer in Nogales than Tucson or Phoenix.
Crime rates here are actually the same or lower than in most categories in the United States, according to www.nationmaster.com, a crime comparison website. That goes for robbery, assault, fraud, rape and a host of other crimes. Moreover, Mexicans also feel safer in our communities than Americans in theirs. In Nogales, the likelihood of the person next to you carrying a firearm is just about zero.
Thousands of Americans cross into Nogales daily to work. Others come for dental and medical treatment. Vast numbers pass through here en route to other cities.
So what compels warnings that smack more of Chicken Little than serious foreign policy?
We see a uniquely American need — a flaw, in fact — to find bad guys and assign culpability, even if there are none. How does one find culpable a city of 300,000? And what about the culpability of drug users in the U.S. who flaunt the law and create the illegal markets abroad? How’s that for blame?
Facts, however, don’t keep State Department-inspired headlines from screaming about murders or its spokespeople from offering paternalistic gobbledygook.
Americans must “lower their personal profiles” and “avoid displaying indicators of wealth such as expensive or expensive-looking jewelry, watches or cameras,” it urges. Citizens “are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated or stand out as potential victims.”
There’s some Ph.D. advice for the masses.
Yet, there’s one thing missing in all this hype: Violence is internecine. It is among traffickers. That we know of, there has yet to be an innocent fatality — much less a foreign fatality — in this city. In Mexico as a whole, the number of innocent victims is nil.
Why is this information ignored?
We have inquired about definitive ground rules for warnings and advisories. Our requests are not honored, and therein lies an inherent unfairness. How can we refute what is not disclosed? We pay the price for State Department fear-mongering.
We turn the tables, momentarily.
What if Mexico’s foreign secretariat had declared Tucson an unsafe place to be after the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords? What if we warned Mexicans not to visit Santa Barbara? Newtown?
We know about all the mass murders that take place north of us — and we recoil and weep, as well. But do random acts of violence really provide a motive to stay away from a city?
Ask any American with a home in Rocky Point, Alamos or San Carlos how safe he feels. Ask those seeking dental treatment here. Most Mexicans wish we felt that safe when we shop at Tucson Mall. Yet we have to defend ourselves?
Enough, Americans. Tell your State Department to cease inaccurate and unsupported xenophobia.
And even if it won’t, show you’re not going to be cowed. Come on down to visit.