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Mexico Asks Texas To Soften Tone Of Travel Alerts

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Mexico says most of the country is safe, and wants Texas to stop telling tourists otherwise.

The head of Mexico’s state-run tourism board met with Texas officials Wednesday to try to prevent more broad, ominous-sounding bulletins such as one released in March, when the Texas Department of Public Safety bluntly told vacationers, “Avoid traveling to Mexico during Spring Break and stay alive.”

Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, concedes that there are border cities that remain dangerous and should be avoided. But he wants Texas to stop generalizing about the entire country as mired in bloodshed and fraught with danger.

“We believe that these travel alerts are too broad-based and making very blind statements about Mexico that do not reflect the reality,” Lopez-Negrete said.

Lopez-Negrete was scheduled to meet in Austin with Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and officials from the Texas DPS, which issues the travel bulletins. Neither agency immediately commented on the meeting.

Mexico is keenly aware of its image problem. A bloody, relentless drug war between feuding cartels has claimed more than 35,000 lives in Mexico since 2006, mostly in the country’s northern states. Along the Texas border, many families who used to routinely cross into Mexico have stopped out of fear.

Lopez-Negrete said vacationers should obviously not travel into violent Ciduad Juarez, located across from El Paso, a warning that Mexico also advises. He said travelers should also be prudent and use “common sense” when going into the border cities Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, but does not suggest they stay away entirely.

It’s the central and seaside vacation getaways most popular in Mexico — such as Cancun or Veracruz — that Mexico wants Texas to stop lumping together with the violence and gunfights largely taking place in the country’s northern states.

“They’re perfectly safe,” Lopez-Negrete said.

Texas officials have disagreed. The March spring break warning from the Texas DPS, which referenced the grim accounts of a U.S. missionary shot in the head during a highway chase and a U.S. federal agent gunned down in an ambush, warned that travelers also risked danger in the busiest tourist destinations.

“Various crime problems also exist in many popular resort areas, such as Acapulco and Cancun, and crimes against U.S citizens often go unpunished,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said in the bulletin.

Toward the end of the advisory, it read: “DPS acknowledges that many travel to Mexico without incident, but the risks cannot be ignored.”

Tourism in Mexico dropped 2 percent in the month after Texas issued the bulletin, Lopez-Negrete said. But he attributed that marginal decline to the U.S. economic downtown keeping more vacationers closer to home, and the country still recuperating from last year’s folding of Mexicana Airlines, which one was of the nation’s largest carriers.

More than half of the 22 million people who visited Mexico last year traveled to the resort destinations, Lopez-Negrete said.

The mere fact that Texas officials are willing to meet is a sign of optimism, Lopez-Negrete said. But his request is nonetheless to a state where Gov. Rick Perry and McCraw have painted the border as dangerous and threatened by encroaching violence.

Lopez-Negrete said he respects the concern among Texas leaders about the troubles in border cities.

“But what these travel warnings have illustrated is that all of Mexico is in that situation,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to change.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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