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After violence breaks out in Mexico, several students adapt their spring break plans.

While Mexico has long been a popular destination for Georgetown spring breakers, the violent drug wars taking place in the country dissuaded many students from crossing the border this year.

The U.S. State Department issued a warning on Feb. 20 advising Americans to be cautious when traveling to Mexico, especially to the cities in the north. While the drug wars have been ongoing for a number of years, 2008 saw an increase in violence. The New York Times reported more than 6,000 drug related murders last year, twice as many as in 2007, stemming from the president’s decision to use the federal police and army against the drug cartels. Although Mexican officials worry that tourism will be affected, the number of tourists visiting Mexico actually increased over the past year.

“Georgetown does not encourage travel that contravenes U.S. Department of State travel warnings and alerts,” said Andy Pino, director of Georgetown media relations.

The surge of violence in Mexico has prompted many universities – such as University of Arizona, Pennsylvania State University and The University of Notre Dame – to issue statements advising students to choose a different destination for spring break. Although Georgetown did not release an official warning, the university restricted the travels of students on the alternative spring break trip to the Mexican border, Border Awareness Experience, to Texas.

“Due to the security concerns in and around some Mexican border towns, this year’s university-sponsored alternative spring break trip to the U.S.-Mexico border did not include travel into Mexico,” Pino said.

Border Awareness Experience is a spring break trip sponsored by the Center for Social Justice that allows students to visit El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to learn about the various issues that affect border life.

Raymond Shiu, the director of Student Leadership and Special Programs at the CSJ, explained that the decision was reached after researching the situation over a period of months. He said the trip was still valuable for the students’ learning despite the restricted travel.

“The idea around [Border Awareness Experience] is to provide Georgetown students with an on-the-ground experience about border life,” Shiu said. “While it was unfortunate that the program wasn’t able to go to Mexico, there were still a lot of valuable experiences to be had. Students could still interact with people that cross the border everyday.”

Some Georgetown students who planned relaxing trips were also deterred from traveling to Mexico due to safety concerns. Although Joe Tesoriero (COL ’10) had been planning to go to Acapulco for months, media coverage of the drug wars caused his parents to reconsider funding the trip.

“About two weeks before the trip, my parents began hearing of all the drug wars occurring on the border towns in Mexico. Since I’m from California, a lot of the news had focused on [the drug wars] recently. . [There were] some really graphic stories,” Tesoriero said.

Courtney Collins (COL ’11) had also planned to vacation in Acapulco; however, the potential risk of violence ended up deterring her from traveling to Mexico.

“My parents encouraged me to think about whether it was really worth it to travel to Acapulco if I didn’t need to, and I ultimately decided it wasn’t [worth it] and canceled my trip,” Collins said.

Although some students found the situation serious enough to call off their trips, others said that there would be no danger as long as the proper safety precautions were taken.

“I have relatives in Mexico and my parents stayed on top of incoming news about how bad the violence was from the drug wars. All the violence is along the border towns like Juárez or Reynosa and it’s not targeted towards Americans,” Christian Pean (COL ’10) said. “I’m also fluent in Spanish and have a lot of experience traveling in third-world countries like Haiti or Mexico so I felt I could more or less take care of myself.”

Pean said that he and his friends did not witness any type of drug-related violence in Acapulco. Cameron Gordon (MSB ’11), who traveled with Pean, said that he saw many guards with automatic weapons, but a conflict never escalated.

Similarly, Jessica Rettig (COL ’09) had initially considered cancelling her vacation in Playa de Carmen, a town 30 minutes south of Cancun, but did not end up experiencing any type of violence during her stay.

“I almost pulled out of the trip . [but] when we actually got there, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” Rettig said. “I felt completely safe the whole time in the area that I was in.”

Pean said that one should simply use common sense when traveling to a foreign country.

“Don’t travel alone or outside the tourist-designated areas, don’t buy drugs and don’t drink too much tequila,” Pean said. “The drug wars in Mexico are no joke, but the violence hasn’t escalated to a point where vacationing there is impossible.”

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