The U.S. State Department has issued an urgent “do not travel” advisory warning to U.S. citizens travelling to Mexico.
According to the warning, citizens are advised to avoid five Mexican states due to the violent crime and gang activity.
USA Today reports: While the State Department has long recommended travelers exercise “increased caution” in Mexico in general because of widespread homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery, the new warning elevates the five states to level 4, the highest level of potential danger.
The advisory, issued Thursday, puts the states of Tamaulipas on the U.S. border and Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero on the Pacific coast on the same level as war-torn countries like Syria, Yemen and Somalia.
The states have long been plagued with drug cartel activity like trafficking routes or the cultivation of drug-related crops.
Turf wars between rival drug cartels have torn apart Tamaulipas, and Sinaloa is home to the cartel of the same name. Michoacan was so dominated by a drug cartel that vigilantes took up arms in 2013 to drive them out.
Homicides skyrocketed in Colima in recent years due to the growth of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, and the state now has Mexico’s highest homicide rate, with 83.3 killings per 100,000 residents, according to figures from the first 11 months of 2017.
In addition to the level 4 warnings, the State Department singles out 11 states for a level 3 warning, which urges people to “reconsider travel.”
Violence claimed 22,409 lives in Mexico in the first 11 months of 2017, the highest toll since crime statistics began being released in 1997.
The State Department warning did not raise the current level 2 warning for Baja California Sur or Quintana Roo, where two popular tourist destinations — Los Cabos and Cancun — are located. The level 2 advisory calls on travelers to exercise caution but does not explicitly suggest they avoid the areas.
However, at least two Mexican resorts — Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo and Acapulco — are in a do-not-travel state, Guerrero, and last year, the State Department extended a total ban on personal travel by U.S. government personnel there.
The latest advisory threatens to further hurt Mexican tourism, a $20 billion industry accounting for about 7% of the country’s GDP.
The new advisory is the first for Mexico under the State Department’s revamped system, announced Wednesday, for issuing travel warnings.
While not addressing the latest warnings directly, the government’s Mexico Tourism Board said in a statement that “Mexico’s major international tourism destinations have been explicitly listed as having no travel restrictions,” apparently a reference to major resorts like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco.
In November, Mexico’s Minister of Tourism, Enrique de la Madrid, walked a fine line in acknowledging a crime problem in Mexico while trying to promote tourism.
“I’m very respectful of what the State Department has to do … what I’m saying is those numbers aren’t necessarily to be considered for tourism purposes because they’re describing (a different) situation,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “We just want to send a signal, which is true, that our destinations are a safe place to visit.”