Spring Break In A War Zone

Thousands of American college students flocked to Mexico this week for spring break in spite of the rising tide of violence between authorities and drug cartels in that country. CBS

Drug related violence has gotten so bad south of the border that the U.S. State Department recently issued a travel alert for Mexico. But, as CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports, that's not stopping tens of thousands of American college students heading south for spring break.
Americans watch as war is waged along their southern border, at the same time they're seeing thousands of U.S. students getting on planes, heading to Mexico, on vacation.

Spring break has always pitted parents' worries against students' wants, but rarely quite like this.

"I know my mom wasn't going to let me come," says bikini-clad Kimberly Tobey, from Wakefield, Mass.

"My parents especially were really scared, they begged us not to come," says another young woman.

If anything could detract from the pictures of sugary beaches in Cancun, Mexico, it would be this: an ongoing battle among drug cartels and against government forces across the country, which in the last 15 months has killed more than 7,000 people.

They're headlines that caught the eye of Marisa Jetter, a junior at Fordham University, as she prepared for spring break in Cancun. She read about the travel alert in a student newspaper.

"I opened up one of the papers and I was like… Oh, the first article 'escalating violence on the border'," Jetter said.

Mexico's fight against the cartels led the U.S. State Department to issue a "travel alert" on their Web site encouraging citizens "throughout" Mexico to "excerise caution."

"I'm nervous," Jetter said. "But then I keep talking myself down like, 'you'll be fine… you'll be fine.'"

It's a public-relations nightmare for a resort town that depends on tourism as its biggest money-maker, Doane reports. While most of the violence is in border cities far from Cancun's tourist strip, just last month came a grisly example of an unsavory undercurrent here.

A retired Mexican army general had has hands, wrists and ankles broken before his body was riddled with bullets. He was in Cancun to overhaul the local police force, after it was believed to be infiltrated by drug cartels.

Cartels operate in the shadows just a few miles from the tourist zone. Where heavily armed federal police, and even the military, patrol the streets. It was a reminder that Cancun is an important smuggling route for drugs headed to the United States.

Meanwhile, back on the tourist strip, police tell CBS News they don't see problems and don't expect any either.

Mexico's $13 billion tourism industry actually grew by 3 percent last year, but with violence lurking in the shadows, one the biggest battles in this part of Mexico, is to keep tourists coming.
By Seth Doane
  • Seth Doane

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