Q&A with Mexico’s president

By Arnie Weissmann

I spent Jan. 30 through Feb. 4 in Mexico reporting on the filming of “The Royal Tour,” a PBS series hosted by CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg. The episode being filmed featured Mexico President Felipe Calderon, acting as a tour guide for various sites around his country. After filming in the town of Tequila, I interviewed Calderon aboard his jet on a flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City and asked him about security, the next big resort development and several other topics related to travel and tourism in Mexico. 

Travel Weekly: Some Americans are very focused on questions about their safety and security in Mexico. Is Mexico a safe place to vacation? And if so, what can a travel agent say to potential travelers to Mexico to reassure them it is safe? 

President Felipe Calderon: Most of the troubles we have are with gangs fighting other gangs. They are not attacking or disturbing tourists. We are receiving 22 million international visitors a year, not counting the 6 million more visiting on cruise ships or the 49 million visitors who cross the borders. There are very few cases [of violence involving tourists].

One thing [agents can do] is to define exactly what the problem is. Mexico has more than 2,500 municipalities, and 80% of the problems are focused in 80 municipalities. Consider the rate of homicides per 100,000 people. Mexico has about 15 homicides per 100,000 people. Jamaica has about 60. Guatemala and El Salvador are closer to 70.

Mexico President Felipe CalderonEven after my friend [former Colombia President Alvaro] Uribe did such an amazing job in Colombia, there are still 35 homicides per 100,000 there, and Brazil has 22. And even some cities in United States, like Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New Orleans, have more homicides per 100,000 people than Mexico; Atlanta is about the same. And there are states in Mexico -Yucatan, Campeche, Tlaxcala, Queretaro and even Quintana Roo – that are as safe as many regions in Europe.

TW: Do you feel you are making progress in getting your message across? 

Calderon: We are trying. It’s not easy. The media is so focused on the [drug gang-related] troubles. Any single incident has a lot of appeal for a newspaper. I understand that.

TW: What steps are you taking to make sure that tourists are safe? 

Calderon: In addition to our policy fighting criminals, we are improving the institutional conditions of the police and attorney general offices in the whole country, and we are paying special attention to those areas that people visit the most. Any incidents involving tourists, whether linked to violence or not, are attended to at the federal level.