Spring Breakers Flee Mexican Drug Violence, But Did They Start It?

As midterms roll to an end and flashes of warmer weather burrow through the waning days of winter, college kids around the country habitually pack up their bathing suits and beer bongs and head south to relish in the debauchery that is spring break.

For the majority of these thrill-seekers, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, or most prominently Cancún, Mexico are the final destinations for their vacations: havens of partying, youth, and safety, at least for tourists. But now, the young American tourists are worried they may have more to watch out for than just over-indulgence and jovial recklessness, and Mexico’s tourist-based economy is worried that it might feel the backlash from these American fears.

Reports suggest a recent expansion of Mexico’s drug war out from notorious border cities such as Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana to more metropolitan areas and more popular tourist resorts. After a recent seven-body shooting in "The Little Mermaid," a local bar in Cancún, investigators are linking the drug-induced organized crime to the taxi drivers' union in the area; taxi drivers, of course, that many tourists rely on for transit between airports and hotels. The reality of these incidents has already scared away many tourists from north of the border, according to 2012 tourism statistics.

Mexico’s Tourism Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu has yet to provide any reason for the decline in tourism revenue, but the regional director for the World Tourism Organization suggested last week it may be less that Mexico is turning tourists away than that other countries such as Russia, Malaysia, or Austria are attracting more spring breakers than used to be the case. The U.S. State Department, however, has correlated Mexico’s drop from the perennial spot on the world’s top-10 tourist destination with the encroaching drug war violence, and issued an explicit travel warning to all U.S. tourists to steer clear of potential casualties linked to violence and crime along drug trafficking routes.

The irony of the situation however, is, of course, that American drug consumption is what fuels Mexican drug trafficking. The now-reluctant American students who had, in past, regularly flocked to the Mexican shores for their week between classes now fear the culture they’ve perpetuated with their insatiable lust for illicit drugs.

In 2006, President Felipe Calderon inaugurated a massive police and military crackdown on the Mexican drug trade. The movement was partially funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government assistance, but over the years has intensified horrific violence, corruption, and human rights violations in the country. Since 2006, over 37,000 Mexicans have been brutally murdered as cartels battle for control of drug-smuggling routes, most of which lead to a final destination in some United States city.

Moreover, the recent legalization of marijuana in both Washington and Colorado will no doubt add new pressures into Mexican politics regarding its ever-dynamic drug culture. A recent BBC report highlights the contradictory efforts of the U.S. government that urges Mexican officials to direct its troops and resources to the fight against drug cartels, while meanwhile undermining those efforts with an incoherent drug policy in the States.

The decline of U.S. tourists in Mexico is rational and legitimate. Families, as well as the U.S. government, want to keep their students away from potential harm at all costs. But it is imperative to note how Americans' lust for drugs has added gas to the already torrid fire that is Mexican drug violence, and how now stripping the Mexico of one of its primary economic gains could leave part of the country in complete devastation.