Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico
Mexico's interior secretary called the latest U.S. State Department travel warning for Mexico "ridiculous."
The State Department issued a warning to Americans to stay out of nearly half of Mexico to avoid drug war violence.
About 47,500 people have been killed in drug war violence since the Mexican government sent troops to fight against cartels that control illegal drug trafficking in December 2006.
The dead have included hundreds of Americans, which prompted the State Department to issue the travel warning for 14 of Mexico's 32 states.
The warning said that "crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and can occur anywhere."
At a press conference this week, Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire said, "It seems frankly out of proportion. I would call it ridiculous."
He added, "Of course there are areas in which there are security risks, but it is exactly in those areas that the federal government is acting with local public security authorities."
The State Department says 120 American travelers to Mexico were murdered in 2011, up from 35 who were murdered in 2007.
The State Department travel warning listed each of the 14 states where violence could threaten tourists and gave information about the kinds of risks.
The latest warning expands the list of Mexican states from the 10 mentioned in an April 2011 travel warning.
"Gun battles between rival [drug cartels] or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico, especially in the border region," the travel warning says. "Gun battles have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area."
The State Department warning gives tips on how to avoid being kidnapped, carjacked or becoming victims of robbers. It says Americans should stay off the roads at night and avoid showing any signs of wealth.
Two incidents in recent days show the drug war is continuing.
Last week, Mexican police found the bodies of 15 people killed by the Zetas drug cartel in two mass graves. They were led to the site by a man who admitted he was an associate of the cartel.
The next day, the Mexican army seized 15 tons of methamphetamine at a farm in Jalisco. The Sinaloa cartel is suspected of operating a drug manufacturing plant on the farm.
The ongoing violence from the drug war led the Global Commission on Drug Policy to issue a recent report that said the "war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."
The report implied that drug decriminalization might be a better option by saying, "Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won."
Despite the risks for travelers, Mexico continues to attract a large number of foreign visitors.
Mexican tourist agency records show the number of foreign travelers arriving by air rose to 22.7 million in 2011, the highest number since the Bank of Mexico began tracking the figures in 1980.
American visitors were one of the few groups that showed a drop in travel to Mexico last year. U.S. air travelers to Mexico fell by 3 percent while the number of tourists from other countries, such as China, Brazil and Peru, increased.
Part of the reason for the increase appears to be marketing efforts by resort operators trying to counter negative publicity about violence.
Some of the best discounts can be found in Acapulco, where drug violence has been severe. Discounts also are available in popular tourists spots like Cancun and Los Cabos, although the violence has been less intense there.
The State Department travel warning lists resort towns of Acapulco, Ixtapa, Zihuatenejo and Mazatlan as being dangerous for visitors.
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