'Mexico is safer than the U.S.', Mexican president says
By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico's president said on Monday his country is safer than the United States, pushing back against U.S. critics of his security record following a deadly kidnapping this month near the border that claimed the lives of two Americans.
The March 3 attack on four Americans in the Mexican city of Matamoros and their subsequent abduction was covered closely by U.S. media and sparked recriminations from politicians in the U.S., particularly Republicans.
By the time Mexican authorities found the Americans, two of them were dead. Five purported Mexican drug cartel members have since been arrested over the kidnapping.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has threatened to urge Mexican-Americans not to vote for Republican candidates if they continue their criticism, rejected U.S. official security warnings that depict much of Mexico as a risky place to visit.
"Mexico is safer than the United States," he told reporters when questioned about the warnings at a news conference. "There's no problem with traveling safely around Mexico."
Lopez Obrador said American tourists and Mexicans living in the U.S. were aware of how safe the country is, and pointed to a recent rise in Americans residing in Mexico. Last year saw a sharp jump in U.S. tourists coming to Mexico.
He blamed an "anti-Mexico" campaign by conservative U.S politicians for negative reports about security.
The U.S. embassy in Mexico did not respond to a request for comment about the president's comments.
At 28 per 100,000 people, Mexico's murder rate was around four times higher than in the United States in 2020, according to data published by the World Bank. Homicides fell about 7% last year in Mexico, but the current government is on track to register a record total for any six-year administration.
The U.S. State Department assigns varying levels of travel risk to all but two of Mexico's 32 regions.
On top of the kidnappings, U.S. police say two women from Texas have been missing in Mexico since late February when they drove across the border to sell clothes at a flea market.
A spokesperson for police in Penitas, near McAllen, said sisters Marina Perez Rios, 48, and Maritza Trinidad Perez Rios, 47, and their Mexican friend, Dora Alicia Cervantes Saenz, 53, have been unaccounted for since Feb. 27, and the FBI had been alerted.
Meanwhile, authorities in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, which has been racked by severe gang violence, said seven women - including a group of six - had been reported missing in the state during the last week.
Separately, an attack by gunmen in a bar in the town of Apaseo El Grande, Guanajuato, on Saturday night has claimed the lives of 10 people, a spokesperson for state prosecutors said. Prosecutors first reported eight dead, but two more people injured in the shooting have since died, the official said.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Woodford and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Julia Harte in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)