Last month we traveled throughout the exquisitely handsome Mexican state of Michoacan, which I chronicled in Way Off the Beaten Path: The Coast of Michoacan, Mexico and Come With Me to Patzcuaro, Michoacan.
So it was with a sad heart that I read about a drug cartel uprising in the state this past weekend, in which at least a dozen police officers were murdered. The cartels targeted police stations across the state, as detailed in this post from The Zapata Tales, written by a blogger who lives in Patzcuaro:
“It looked like Baghdad. There were bullet holes in the police station, the windows, the walls. Across the street, sitting next to a gas pump where some poor sap was likely getting a fillup, sat a silver Meriva like the one we once owned. Full of bullet holes too, shredded metal.”
The attacks were in retaliation for the police arresting a top cartel leader.
And, many of the attacks were on the very streets Brendan, Charlie and I rode on, which, when we visited, were flanked by scenery that was about as close to paradise as I’ve ever seen (Michoacan is frequently regaled as Mexico’s most beautiful state, and I not only agree with that assessment but would argue it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world). My biggest fear at the time was falling mangos or a flat tire (or getting stuck in the sand at the beach). My home is now full of art from Michoacan, some of the most amazing I’ve seen in my travels across 22 states in this country. We never once felt unsafe, although cartels have been operating in this state for some time.
The cartels are ruthless in their efforts to supply drug-hungry Americans, but most of the violence in recent years has been much closer geographically to my friends and family in Texas than to me here in Mexico City.
This time, though, the recent violence was abnormal enough that I received this email this afternoon, from the U.S. Embassy Warden (an email alert service I signed up for after first moving here). I’m at no immediate risk, so the warning doesn’t frighten me, it saddens me. Tell me: How long will Mexico continue to suffer from this violence? What will it take to stop drug-related violence? How many people have to die? Is it really that important to keep drugs illegal?
The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens residing or traveling in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, to be aware of recent violent attacks targeting state and federal police officials, and wishes to remind U.S. citizens of the Travel Alert for Mexico dated February 20, 2009. Several Mexican police officials have been killed at various locations throughout the state. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any attempts to target U.S. citizens with this violence; however, citizens are advised to maintain awareness of their surroundings when travelling throughout the state and to avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
Actions to Take if Caught in the Middle of a Gunfight/Gunfire
The U.S. Embassy takes this opportunity to remind U.S. citizens of guidance sent on October 22, 2008, recommending the following courses of action to take if you find yourself in a situation in or near gunfire:
– Always be aware of your surroundings.
– Whenever possible, carry a cell-phone with up to date contact information for emergencies.
– When gunfire/explosions are heard, immediately move to a safe area with good cover. For example, look for something substantial to hide behind, seek cover in a room made of solid construction (e.g. concrete, steel, etc.), stay away from doors and windows, and do not venture out to try and observe the conflict.
– Immediately convey the sense of danger/threat to those around you.
– Do not attempt to move to a vehicle if you are in a safe area. Remain there until local security tells you that it is safe to move.
– Always carry information about your personal medical needs.