Mexico Seeks to Ramp Up Tourism By Rebranding Drug War
Hospitality Industry, War on Drugs Can Be Complimentary Businesses
The Mexican government under recently empowered President Enrique Peña Nieto has gone to great lengths to promote the nation as a rising economic contender while downplaying the disastrous war on drugs — which, to date, has led to more than 125,000 homicides in Mexico since the bloodshed began to escalated in late 2006.
From the vantage point of the Mexican citizens, this public relations campaign must appear a sham, since much of the nation still lives below the poverty line and the carnage in the war on drugs is ongoing.
However, for public officials, lenders and private developers benefiting from the tourism market, the scheme makes economic sense and promises to keep Mexico’s beach-front hotel communities filled with fun-loving US tourists.
But those US tourists might want to have a second look at the stakes for them. Numbers released recently by the US Department of State show that it is actually more likely that a US citizen will meet an untimely death as a result of tourist-related activity in Mexico than due to its drug war — though both contributed to nearly 1,200 US citizen deaths in Mexico between 2007-2012.
The Riviera Nayarit is a nearly 200-mile-long strip of coastal tourist paradise that stretches from Playa Novilleros to Nuevo Vallarta in the Mexican state of Nayarit — located south of the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Zacatecas and north of the state of Jalisco on Mexico’s West Coast.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in Riviera Nayarit since 2007 to make it a premier tourist destination. Part of that effort includes marketing and public relations.
Toward that end, the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitors Bureau along with the Bahia de Banderas Hotel and Motel Association have retained US-based M. Silver Associates Inc., part of the Ruder Finn Group, to promote Riviera Nayarit — in the US and Canada in particular.
M. Silver filed its marketing plan for the Mexican resort mecca in March 2013 with the Department of Justice per the requirements of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
“The five year anniversary of Riviera Nayarit, 2012, brought significant opportunities to the destination — Tianguis, several major television shows and the second Extravaganza Nautica,” M. Silver Associates states in the introduction to its marketing plan for Riviera Nayarit. “All of this was needed to bring Riviera Nayarit further into the forefront as a premier destination.
“2013 marks new opportunities for Riviera Nayarit — the U.S. State Department warning for travel to Mexico has been removed for Riviera Nayarit and other Mexican destinations and the economy is improving. The Mexican market grew in the last few years, the Canadian market remained fairly steady and the U.S. market is ready to come back to Mexico.
“Riviera Nayarit has a strong marketing plan that focuses on its key attributes and knows what audiences will be attracted to each one. M. Silver's public relations endeavors for 2013 and beyond will focus on each of those pillars with specific strategies and tactics.”
And so, it seems the time is right to strike, particularly since the Mexican and US media are cooperating with the effort to rebrand Mexico as drug-war lite — a campaign that calls for downplaying the drug war and trumpeting the nation’s economic resurgence in areas such as tourism.
And it should be noted that tourism projects have long been a favorite investment target for organized crime groups, because they offer great shelter for money-laundering operations.
An article published back in 1995 by the Transnational Organized Crime Journal makes the following observation:
Tourism projects have always been a prime venue for money laundering investment by Mexican drug traffickers. Felix Gallardo invested in Hermosillo and Puerto Vallarta, as did Chapo Guzman in Southern Nayarit and Banderas Bay in Nuevo Vallarta. In time, we may discover that Juan Garcia Abrego has investments in Punta Diamante, as he does in Monterrey and Matamoros, and that the Cancun-Tulum project is another example of money laundering symbiosis between narco-power and elites in Mexico. [Emphasis added.]
Given Peña Nieto’s strategy of downplaying the drug-war bloodshed while magnifying Mexico’s so-called economic “recovery,” with tourism being promoted as one of the economic engines of that comeback, it is worth noting that the major commercial media in both the US and Mexico seem eager to trumpet Mexico’s fiscal success with only surface-level analysis. In fact, much of the commercial media has been firmly planted on the Peña Nieto PR bandwagon since he took office.
And why not? If more money — clean or dirty, it matters not — is pumped into tourism, then that creates a larger pool of advertising dollars for media outlets to suck up.
A recent report from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin describes that media landscape:
A report from the Media Agreement Observatory has revealed that Mexican media has notably reduced its coverage of organized crime since the inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto as president in December.
Words like "murder, organized crime and narcotrafficking" appeared much less frequently (50%) in Mexico City's media between December  and February  compared to the previous three months. On TV, the word "murder" appeared 70% less frequently, and "narcotrafficking" appeared 44% less frequently, reported the Campaign for Liberty of Expression.
And that same effort to influence media in the US to spread the good gospel of Mexico is underway as well.
Last July, Narco News reported that then President-elect Peña Nieto had hired Washington, DC-based public relations firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates to help him spread positive propaganda about his new administration and its plans for Mexico. CLSA is the same US image-building firm that was retained in the fall of 2009 by Honduran usurpers led by then “de facto” President Roberto Micheletti in the wake of their successful coup d'état in that Central American country.
As of December of 2012, CLSA was still working for Pena Nieto, according to a filing the firm made that month under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. CLSA’s next filing under FARA is due by June of this year.
A close reading of that FARA filing shows a list of all the contacts made from July to November 2012 by CLSA on behalf of Peña Nieto as part of the PR firm’s mission to solicit positive press from influential US media outlets. All of the majors for setting the news agenda in the US show up on the list of media outlets and think tanks contacted by CLSA on behalf of Pena Nieto, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, The Atlantic, Time, the Brookings Institution and the Wilson Center, among others.
Between the Lines
But there are a few facts that do not surface in the ongoing PR blitz aimed at clouding out the drug-war realities and promoting economic fiction for the benefit of industries such as tourism, finance and real-estate development.
One, the carnage in the drug war in Mexico is continuing, with homicides actually higher in each of the first four months of Peña Nieto’s presidential term than they were in 10 of the 11 preceding months.
The other hidden fact deals with the deaths of US citizens in Mexico from 2007-2012 — the period during which the drug war was escalated under former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The truth is that US citizens living in or traveling to Mexico during this six-year period were relatively insulated, though not immune, from the drug-war carnage afflicting Mexican citizens — some 120,000 of whom were murdered during the six-year period.
An analysis of US State Department figures included in the following report, “Death of US Citizens Abroad by Non-Natural Causes,” shows that from 2007-2012, a total of 468 US citizens were the victims of homicides — a number certainly related to the drug war. As might be expected, those homicides spiked in 2010 and 2011 (to 112 and 113, respectively) coinciding with a sharp increase in murders of Mexican citizens during that two-year period — the bloodiest under Calderón’s war on drugs.
But the total number of homicides of US citizens in Mexico dropped to 71 in 2012 — also mimicking a slight decline in Mexican-citizen homicides that year.
However, even as homicides declined, another death marker for US citizens in Mexico shot up in 2012, to 112 — a measure of the number of US citizens in Mexico who died due to vehicle accidents or drowning.
In fact, from 2007-2012, a total of 688 US citizens lost their lives in Mexico due to vehicle accidents or drowning, according to the State Department figures. Arguably, those are the types of deaths most associated with tourism-related activities.
The fact that US deaths in Mexico due to vehicle accidents and drowning eclipse the number of homicides by 220 over the period 2007-2012 should tell us that if Mexican President Peña Nieto and his private-sector backers are successful in downplaying the drug war and equally successful in attracting more US tourists to Mexico, then we are likely to see far more US citizens die in Mexico going forward.
That’s because there will be all that many more opportunities for vehicle accidents and drowning incidents if more US tourists find their way to Mexico to party. Likewise, by downplaying the drug war, and its ongoing bloodshed, we can also expect its root causes to go unaddressed and consequently see an increase in the number of both Mexican and US citizens who will pay the ultimate price for that official denial.
But it seems that is a price the captains of free enterprise and their political allies are willing to accept, because tourists attracted by government-backed propaganda and the money generated by the prohibition-fueled drug war both play an important role in keeping the resort towns booming. And that, after all, is the bottom line.