EDITORIAL: MICHOACAN/Dec. 14, 2006
By Travis M. Whitehead
The drug-related violence in the Mexican state of Michoacan has plagued the newspapers and radio stations in recent days, creating a great deal of alarm and speculation among Americans. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has sent several thousand troops into the state in recent days to deal with a rash of executions and other violence stemming from the drug trade, giving rise to even more concern.
On Wednesday night I heard someone on the radio refer to Michoacan as a “cesspool” and as the “Al-Anbar” province of Mexico, in reference to a dangerous part of Iraq where many American service-members have died.
However, I was in Michoacan just a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t track in any human sewage on my shoes, nor did anyone shoot me. In fact, I felt just as safe as I have on every other trip I’ve made to this marvelous state west of Mexico City during the last five years.
On my most recent visit to Michoacan, I went by the Casa de las Artesanias, a state agency which supports the artisans of Michoacan. The Casa, located in the Church of St. Francis in the state capital of Morelia, is filled with handmade guitars from Paracho, ceramic pumpkins from Zinapecuaro, and colorful handmade dresses from throughout the state. However, I couldn’t find a single drug runner, gunman or bandit anywhere, nor did I find any human sewage.
I walked a few blocks to the Museo de las Dulces de Morelia where the hot perfume of fresh candy hit me like a wave. Shelves of candy-covered almonds, fruit liquor, cookies and chocolate greeted me, along with packages of ate, the locally-made candy which is one of Morelia’s trademarks. There was also an area in the back with an old kitchen where a woman in period costume demonstrated how ate was made in the 1800s. But, still no gunmen.
I took a bus to see some friends in Paracho, but I stopped off in Uruapan on the way. Uruapan, the state’s second-largest city, is famous for its fine avocados and for several gunmen walking into a bar recently to throw some human heads onto the floor.
I had a breakfast of chilaquiles at Café Tradicional De Uruapan, an open-air restaurant with lively music and good coffee, then I walked a few blocks to the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio. I took a walk through the tall jungle along broad walkways past playful fountains that fed into a rushing stream, relaxing in the tranquility of the late-morning sun. No drug traffickers were lurking in the shadows waiting to shoot me, and I didn't pass a single puddle of sewage.
I asked the taxi driver about the situation on my way back to the bus station, and he assured me he felt perfectly safe.
In Paracho, where I covered the guitar festival in August, I met a friend of mine, one of the local guitar makers. His main concern wasn’t drug runners, it was finding better ways to sell his guitars.
We did talk about the drug problem. Yes, it does exist, but it occurs more in other areas of the state where heavier rainfall produces better marijuana crops. Apatzingan, he said, has a lot of drug activity. If one person is doing it, he said, then everybody is involved.
I asked him if I would have any reason to feel in danger, and he said no. Most of the drug violence is between people involved in the drug trade.
It’s important to remain aware that there is danger in any part of the world at any time. You can get in trouble even in McAllen, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the danger to American tourists in Michoacan, in my opinion, is no greater now than at any other time. All you have to do is be smart, avoid suspicious activity and travel in groups.
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