Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Thu May 26 2016

Opinion Home | Magic of Mexico

  • Greg Custer | May 26, 2016 8:00 PM ET

    To Live and Die in Mexico

    To Live and Die in Mexico

    This is not a story about Mexico’s celebrated Día de los Muertos ritual, or how Americans come here to retire, then forget to die.  The other day I came across the black-and-white details about where and how U.S. citizens meet their maker in foreign lands. You see, the U.S. State Department is required by law to report non-natural deaths by U.S. citizens in foreign countries.

    Anyone who’s explored beyond the comforts and wonder of Western Europe knows our global village has some tough neighborhoods. In fact, in the two-years 2014-15 exactly 1,723 unfortunate U.S. citizens “bought the farm” beyond U.S. soil. The categories to define cause of non-natural death range from air accidents to suicide, drowning, terrorism, various shades of vehicular demise and of course, homicide.

    Let’s say a blessing to those who died in a foreign land. We have no doubt lost some talented ambassadors of American goodwill, and no one wants to die alone in a foreign land. The report reveals that “most citizens who die abroad were residing abroad” without defining “most.” So we can assume most U.S. citizens knew some degree of die-where-you-live comfort. All non-natural death spells tragedy. Let’s pray some fatalities were in the pursuit of happiness. Crossing a London street after a pint (then looking the wrong way), or a sunset booze-cruise man-overboard can at least be understood with a twinge of “oh well…”

    Mexico’s report deserves more analysis. Lots of supposition and speculation come with the Mexico figures.

    Mexico detractors will paint how more Americans die of non-natural causes in Mexico than any other country. This fact is true: 488 U.S. citizens were reported dead of non-natural causes in the 24-month period 2014-2015. It’s 28.3 percent of the total body count. Mexico accounted for 50 percent of worldwide homicides involving U.S. citizens. But before anyone calls Bill O’Reilly and launches another Mexico travel boycott, a level-headed look at the figures is warranted.

    Let’s not minimize how Mexico is in a war with narco traffickers who covet transit routes to U.S. consumers. It’s no surprise that 92 percent of U.S. homicides in Mexico happen in Mexico’s border states and/or regions rarely accessed by vacationers.

    Headed on a beach vacation or to an inland big city? Here are the murder figures involving U.S. citizens:

    Source: U.S. State Department

    I’m not a statistician, however my brilliant son Andy is! So I asked him “On a typical day vacationing in a Mexico resort (over the next 24 months), what is the probability you will become a homicide victim?”

    13 homicides in two years/10 million beach visitors/730 days=.0000000178% probability

    I suspect this figure is right up there with being hit by lightning while being eaten by a shark. While riding a unicycle.

    Yes, more people die of non-natural causes in Mexico — precisely because more U.S. citizens live here. The same is true with vacation tragedies, such as drowning or vehicular accidents. With over 13 million Americans having fun down south during 2014-15, accidents are bound to follow, especially in a developing world setting where “personal responsibility” means “watch out” (and not “call your lawyer”).

    So is Mexico safe? The millions of us who call it home look at “safety” through a different lens. Is it safe to drive a car? Not entirely. How about riding a bike? Not really. Walking on sidewalks? Uh, often no. Accidents happen, and some of us are luckier (and smarter) to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s part of death and life in Mexico.


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Greg Custer Magic of Mexico

Greg Custer Greg Custer is a California native with more than 35 years working in various international travel industry capacities. He spent 14 years in aviation (TWA, Mexicana, Aerocalifornia). With a love for studying all things Latin America, (BA/MA UCLA, Latin American Studies) he is a leading authority on travel agent educational programs for Latin American tourism boards. Greg is fluent in written and spoken Spanish and has conducted hundreds of training workshops for travel agents. He is an accomplished travel photographer and author (with wife Jane) of the “Magic of Mexico” travel agent study guide. He resides in Ajijic (Jalisco) Mexico, enjoying one foot in the modern world and the other in Mexican pueblo life.
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