On July 1st 2012, Mexican voters went to the polls to elect a new president, to replace President Felipe Calderón. The primary issues were the drug cartels, and the violence that is plaguing the nation. An estimated 77,738,494 Mexicans voted, making the voter turnout rate 63.1 percent. The election was a three-way race between Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and finally Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. After much controversy, the winner was determined to be PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, returning the PRI to power after 12 years, before they were in power for 70 years.
However as of the time of writing this article charges are being filed against Peña Nieto by former candidate Obrador claiming that Nieto bought votes and did not follow laws putting caps on the amount of money candidates can spend during an election.
Whatever the outcome will be of the charges, the new president will not take office until December 1st. The controversy still haunts the election, but regardless of the final outcome, all candidates pledged to try and end the violence from drug cartels besetting the borders.
Since Felipe Calderón took office in 2006, 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence. Calderón measured his success against the cartels by the numbers of kingpins he has taken down, the kilos of drugs he has destroyed. Peña Nieto is also going to measure his success by the numbers, not the numbers of drugs they destroy, but by seeing if the numbers of people killed by these cartels decreases.
The method Peña Nieto will take to deal with the cartels will most likely be to shift from the offensive position the Mexican government currently holds to a defensive one, despite the claims that we will continue to fight. He is pledging to continue to fight because failure to do so is political suicide.
What this means is that instead of using the police and the military to hunt down and attack the cartels, they will instead be used to protect the population from the violence. This will break the cycle of attack and counter-attack, reducing violence and allowing the cartels to focus on each other.
This will return the nation to the status-quo before the PRI lost power. It was during the time that the PAN was in charge when the government went from turning a blind eye to the cartels, to open confrontation with them. This gave Peña Nieto the ability to say that when the PRI was in charge there was no violence, and that returning the PRI to power will return the peace.
There is no way to measure the time it will take to see a decrease in the violence.
“Defining a timeline, is like saying, when the consumer stops using drugs around the world, particularly in the U.S., which is the major market for consuming these products,” said Luis Eduardo Ros, former CEO of the Mexico City Tourism Board, Global Director for Tourism for the Republic of Mexico and former Secretary of Tourism for the State of Veracruz.
“The drug cartels and organized crime are entrenched in these regions, on one side by the hardening of the U.S. authorities not to miss anything and on the other hand, decided by the frontal attack that Mexican authorities have carried out against these unlawful acts,” said Ros.
“By coordinating the authorities of Mexico and the United States and with intelligent actions, of national security etc., we can think such violence may be reduced visibly and above all have it felt along the borders of both countries,” Ros added.
Tourism in Mexico
With the current levels of violence in the U.S.-Mexican border towns, travel and tourism into Mexico has become troublesome, but is still a consistent market. Tourism is $12 billion industry for Mexico and important for the economy.
New airports are being opened across the country, like one in San Miguel de Allende and two in Southern Baja California. The Mexican Tourism Board has been running advertisements with smiling people having fun, trying to put a positive light on Mexico, trying to draw tourists in.
Even with the levels of violence, tourism numbers have increased. Ros stated that, Mexico has seen a consecutive growth in foreign visitors. Last December, international tourists traveling by air increased 13 percent, indicated by SECTUR supported by information of the Bank of Mexico and the Integral System of Operation Migration.
The year of 2011 closed with 22.67 million international tourists, a historic figure since 1980, the year Banxico began measuring the numbers. This represents an increase of 2 percent and 5.7 percent in relation to 2010 and 2009, Ros sited.
While the international numbers have increased, there has been a decrease in tourists from the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of Americans traveling by air to other countries has fallen 4.1 percent.
“Due to the arrival of fewer tourists from the north, hoteliers from the border are currently promoting joint actions to strengthen border tourism, with participation from institutions that we have at our disposal, government organizations have informed us that they will help any way they can,” said Ros.
Ros shared some of the initiatives being put into place:
- The creation of a contingency fund to strengthen a promotion campaign in the South of United States, which starts in September, weeks before the season of American visitors begins.
- It has been requested to increase 20 to 360 km border territory between the international dividing line in the North of the country and the parallel line of 20 kilometers toward the interior of the country. (About 51 million tourists cross the border, and return the same day.)
“I believe that a lot of progress has been made on the issue of violence. Mexico is not a warlike country, but it has forced all Mexicans to be aware of this issue, but I think it is very interesting that Mexicans haven’t lost their values, joy or the ability to welcome visitors to the country. So it will always be worthwhile to visit Mexico.”
With officials working to decrease the violence in Mexico, and the tourism sector working to attract more visitors, all of this fits into the realm of medical tourism.
The proximity of Mexico to the United States makes it an ideal location for medical tourists from the north. Many medical tourists like to stay as close to home as possible, so Mexico is in an excellent position for this. The proximity also reduces the costs of medical tourism; it is cheaper to leave the country for some medical treatments even factoring in the cost of flying overseas; it is cheaper still to take a flight to Mexico, or even to drive.
“In 2011 about two million Americans left their country in search of healthcare, of which approximately 5.0 percent, i.e., 100 thousand patients travelled to Mexico for various treatments,” said Ros.
Mexico already has some basic infrastructure for medical tourism specifically to make it easier for medical tourists. There is a designated lane for cars carrying U.S. citizens into Mexico without waiting in long lines to cross, which opened April 30, 2012.
The new lane takes the wait time to cross the border from two hours to 20 minutes. Some of the facilitators who help the medical tourism industry in Mexico offer van rides across the border, so the patient does not need to undertake the drive by themselves.
The most notable bus route runs from Las Vegas to Mexicali, but this lane is modeled after another which takes patients from San Diego to Tijuana. This helps the many under and uninsured who cannot afford the costs of medical care in the United States.
This is also good for many of the Mexican born people who live and work in the U.S., but would like to be treated in their native country. Being surrounded by your family and being treated by people who speak your native language and who know your customs would certainly help in the healing and recovery process.
“In 2011, Mexico health tourism grew 25 percent compared to 2010, and Baja California was the state that benefitted the most with close to a $90 million economic benefit, with figures I quote from Health Digital Systems,” explained Ros.
With the realization of growth in the sector, Ros said, there are associations in cities such as Monterrey and Tijuana, where hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and other healthcare providers are agreeing among themselves along with the tourism and hotel sector to offer their services.
Some insurance companies in Southern California are even extending their coverage into Mexico, encouraging the customers to seek the more valuable alternative. This shows the potential for everyone involved in the medical tourism industry on the border to be happy.
The local doctors are happy because they are getting paid, the local businesses are happy because of the influx of patients spending money in their town, the newspapers are happy because of new advertisers from south of the border, and above all the patients are happy because they are getting the medical attention they need at prices they can afford.
Whatever becomes of the controversy surrounding the recent elections, the violence is sure to decrease. While no one can guarantee that the violence will end, the people are quickly reaching the limit to what they will put up with. The people remain optimistic that this how the violence will end.