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Feb, 19, 2011 Advisory warns U.S. travelers about trips to central Mexico Read more:

 Posted on Fri, Feb. 18, 2011

Advisory warns U.S. travelers about trips to central Mexico


The Dallas Morning News

A new U.S. government advisory urges a "heightened sense of alert" for Americans living or traveling in central Mexico - a destination for many North Texas residents - after drug cartel gunmen fatally shot a U.S. agent and wounded another there.

The agents were ambushed in San Luis Potosi state on Tuesday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata later died of his wounds. Agent Victor Avila was wounded.

In North Texas, the second-largest population of immigrants is from San Luis Potosi, and many of them travel to their hometowns on federal Highway 57, where the attack on the agents took place.

About 300,000 natives of San Luis Potosi state live in Texas, many of them in North Texas, said Peggy Jaramillo, president of the group Your House San Luis Potosi in Texas, which provides immigrants with help and information.

Traditionally, about 60 percent of them return to their hometowns at some point each year, often at Christmas or in the summer, but that number has fallen by about half as concerns about security have grown, she said.

Jaramillo said she and other Mexicans are "definitely thinking twice before traveling not just to San Luis Potosi but anywhere in the country."

The route is also popular for Americans vacationing in the states of San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Guanajuato, with its popular community of San Miguel de Allende, a second home to thousands of Texans.

"For every American who does visit, there are 100 of their American friends who ask, 'Are you crazy?' " said Dan Scher, co-owner of Casa Puesta del Sol, a bed and breakfast in San Miguel popular with Americans and Mexicans. "We're grateful that we're getting more Mexican tourism because tourism from the U.S. is dead."

Scher and his wife, Gabriela, plan to offer discounts, a rarity, to lure tourists as spring break and Easter near.

"Get on a plane and fly, don't drive," he advised. "I wouldn't."

Whether the U.S. advisory affects Texas-Mexico commercial ties remains to be seen. One business security consultant said Friday that plans to move goods - everything from food to televisions, jeans and auto parts - would go ahead as planned.

"That highway, which is our NAFTA highway, has been dangerous for quite some time," a U.S. corporate security consultant said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This incident only makes us that much more cautious."

Surface transportation trade between the U.S. and Mexico totaled $28.6 billion in November 2010, up nearly 20 percent over the prior-year's same month, according to the latest data available from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Texas led all states in trade with Mexico, with imports and exports totaling $10.3 billion.