Exercise caution when traveling within Mexico

One of the traditional attractions of spring break has been the Mexican border, and the ease with which people can go into Mexico to visit family or enjoy the food, inexpensive shopping and entertainment.

This year, however, a cloud hovers as the state and federal agencies warn that crossing the border could be hazardous to your health.

The Texas Department of Public Safety issued a news release last week advising people not to go into Mexico at all.

“There is an increase in Mexican drug cartel-related violence in the northern Mexican border cities,” DPS Director Steven McCraw states in the news release. “Parents should not allow their children to visit these Mexican cities because their safety cannot be guaranteed.”

The U.S. State Department also has renewed its travel advisory regarding violence in border cities.

Rising violence between drug cartel members, and between them and the Mexican military, has made northern Mexico particularly dangerous. Shootouts have broken out in broad daylight in busy streets, neighborhoods and shopping centers. Cartel members reportedly have even invaded schools during class in hopes that with so many children present, their foes won’t open fire.

Even lesser crooks and corrupt police are taking advantage of the current fear and instability. Local thugs have taken to kidnapping tourists and migrants for ransom, and police — called “los necios” (the idiots) by the locals — have stepped up their shakedown stops of foreign vehicles.

Part of the concern stems from the uncertainty of just how widespread the violence is, and of Mexican law enforcement’s ability to contain it.

Spring break isn’t the only concern. Holy Week, which begins March 28 this year, traditionally attracts many tourists and shoppers from Mexico’s interior. Worries about making it to the U.S. safely, coupled with the ongoing recession, might prompt many people to stay home this Semana Santa.

The young students who make up the majority of spring breakers traditionally are more confident and willing to take risks. So the lure of the beach, and Mexican culture, might still draw many of them across the border.

Officials always advise visitors to exercise caution and avoid unknown areas and activities. Those advisories carry more urgency this year, and should be heeded.