Mexico is a major staging post on the cocaine-smuggling route from Colombia to the US, and use of cocaine is widespread and growing, with crack a blight in parts of the capital and some northern cities. Also growing is the use of methamphetamine (“hielo”), which is manufactured in Mexico, especially in areas close to the US border. Heroin is also manufactured in some northern states. In this ever-growing and increasingly lucrative trade, powerful, well-connected cocaine- and methamphetamine-smuggling cartels, known as “narcos” have long fought over territory, with each gang having its own pet politicians and police in the states it controls.
The situation changed radically in 2007 when President Felipe Calderón declared war on the narcos, who turned their guns on the police and army as well as each other. Innocent civilians often get caught in the crossfire, and thousands of people a year are now being killed in incidents related to the drugs war, with the biggest hotspots in areas bordering the US, and in major drug-producing states such as Sinaloa, but nowhere is safe.
The drugs war and tourism
Tourists are not usually affected, but June 2009 saw tourist hotels hurriedly evacuated as a two-hour gun battle engulfed a section of Acapulco. Ironically, the increased presence of police and army patrols has led to better security in some ways (less highway banditry for example), but particularly in hotspots such as Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, Matamoros, Nogales and Reynosa, it is best to avoid areas you don’t know and anywhere associated with the drugs trade, though shootings have occurred in those cities at ordinary restaurants and busy road junctions.