JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Adrian Rios has some simple but brutal advice for thousands of Americans driving to visit relatives in Mexico this Holy Week.
“If you see a vehicle stopped on the highway, don’t try to help. It feels bad to leave people stranded, but it might be real, or it might not,” the El Paso, Texas, resident said. “I recommend to just keep going to your destination.”
That’s because the possibility of a robbery or kidnapping on Mexican highways – particularly in states where heavy drug cartel activity has been documented – has become a concern in recent years.
This week, 15 passengers in a van and the driver of a commercial truck were robbed at gunpoint near the town of Matehuala, San Luis Potosi. The motorists coming from neighboring Guanajuato and Mexico City were stripped of money and valuables and let go a day later. “They are in good health, out of danger and returning to their relatives,” the San Luis Potosi Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
But another 23 people traveling on a passenger bus and a van also coming from Guanajuato are still missing in what Mexican authorities say is a “separate incident.” A search involving land and aerial police units is underway, the AG’s Office said.
El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, residents interviewed by Border Report on Thursday at a Mexican government checkpoint south of Juarez said they are aware of the dangers criminals pose in certain parts of Mexico. However, they said the need to visit relatives – particularly on holidays like Christmas, Mother’s Day and Holy Week – makes them put such fears aside.
Rosy Rios, of Juarez, said she and her husband observe some common-sense habits while driving to the interior of Mexico.
“We always ask (friends or relatives) to call us. We make sure the cellphone has service and that we have sufficient gasoline. It can be dangerous to run out of gas on the highway or drive a car with mechanical problems,” she said.
Rios said she has never experienced a robbery on Mexican highways but added she and her husband only travel outside of Juarez occasionally.
“The first two times we drove at night and it was traumatic. It was so dark. The last two times we (drove) by day and it was much better. That way you can see if a car is following you or if you pass a car that you saw earlier (in the day). I feel traveling at night is more dangerous,” Rios said.
Miguel Malanche, of El Paso, concurs that night travel in Mexico should be avoided. “We try to avoid being the only vehicle on the road at night. We also try to follow a group (of vehicles) so we are not the only ones on the highway,” he said.
Malanche said he only travels to towns inside the state of Chihuahua – Mexico’s largest – to visit relatives. Parral, in the southern tip of the state, is as far as he will go.
Jorge Ramirez, a Juarez resident, on Thursday was getting ready to travel to Casas Grandes in northwest Chihuahua. He wasn’t going alone – his young nephew would be driving right behind him.
“He’ll be in a different car. That way, if something happens, the other person can call for help,” he said. Ramirez said Casas Grandes is a peaceful farming and ranching center. However, criminal organizations operate in the area.
“I know there are problems with criminals. There have been robberies and kidnappings. No one is exempt” from being a victim of crime, he said.
Chihuahua state authorities said police officers are monitoring all major highways in the state and have assigned special units to tourist destinations such as the Copper Canyon, the Indigenous ruins at Paquime, the town of Creel known for its Tarahumara Indian influences, and Basaseachi, known for its 240-meter drop waterfall.