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Foreigners Under Attack in Mexico

April 24, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Once, a Mexican tour may have included a stroll among the palms, a visit to a colonial village or a night on the town. Increasingly, itineraries are veering into seamy neighborhoods, hospital emergency wards _ or worse.

The number of attacks on tourists _ both foreign and Mexican _ has doubled in the first months of this year.

Maria del Pilar Hiroishi, secretary of tourism for the Mexico City legislature, said an average of 20 tourists are attacked each day in the city.

On average, about five of the daily victims are foreigners; four are Americans, the most frequent visitors to Mexico.

A high-ranking U.S. Embassy official recalled last summer’s 2 a.m. call.

``A very nice gentleman called and said `I have this young woman here at my house, completely naked, and she says she’s an American,‴ he said, speaking with customary anonymity.

For the duty officer, it was already routine: Get a police car to pick her up. Meet her at the station. Walk her through procedures.

He learned that the woman had hailed a taxi with a girlfriend in front of their hotel.

A few blocks away, two men jumped in. The friend had been beaten and thrown out of the cab, and made it back to the hotel.

The woman he met at the police station was taken to a room, raped, and then dumped in the street.

The embassy recommends tourists travel in groups, always have a set destination _ and not hail gypsy cabs, considered by police to be in collusion with muggers.

Jan Reid and three friends hailed a taxi home from Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square together last Sunday. Fifteen minutes later, armed men boarded their cab and forced it into a seedy neighborhood.

When they stopped there was a scuffle, and Reid, a journalist, ended up with bullets in his wrist and abdomen. He flew back to a Houston hospital, where he is in stable condition.

Some haven’t fared as well.

Eight Americans have been killed in Mexico in the last four months, most recently Vermont artist Carol Jayne Schlosberg. She was raped and drowned by assailants who attacked as she walked on the beach near the Pacific resort of Puerto Escondido on March 29.

The most common crimes are thefts in the streets, hotels or taxis. American real estate executive Peter Zarate was shot to death when a gang of armed men tried to rob him aboard a taxi in December.

In the sunny, porticoed plaza at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square, mariachi club security guard Mario Aguilar Rodriguez said he saw a Spanish man mugged just yards from where he stood.

``You shouldn’t wear too much jewelry, and it’s safer to travel in groups of three or four,″ Aguilar said.

Dozens of foreign correspondents have been held up or kidnapped. This month, a camera and sound crew from Cable News Network was robbed at gunpoint while leaving the parking lot of Mexico’s Foreign Secretariat.

With his heavyweight connections, even U.S. boxing promoter Don King was not immune. During his visit to Mexico City last month, armed thieves stopped his car and stole his Rolex watch, reportedly worth more than $100,000.

``The watch is meaningless. Your life is everything,″ King said. ``I’m very thankful to them for not hurting the people who were with me.″

Mexico is hardly Colombia or Algeria. An estimated 600,000 U.S. citizens live in Mexico, according to the U.S. Embassy, and hundreds of thousands of U.S. tourists are passing through at any given time. Eight murders in a city of 600,000 would hardly be news.

But the trend has worried some tourism officials, who hope the recent killings will not scare visitors away.

Axel Schneider, a tourist from Hamburg, Germany interviewed as he sat on a bench in Garibaldi Square just days after Reid’s shooting, said he has a simple list of precautions.

``You should always look around, and never show your money,″ he said.

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