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This is not a story about Mexico’s celebrated Día de Muertos ritual, or how Americans come here to retire, then forget to die. The other day I came across the black-and-white details about where and how US citizens meet their maker in foreign lands. You see, the US State Department is required by law to report non-natural deaths by US citizens in foreign countries. Analysis of the data reveals activities (driving, swimming) and tragic events (homicide and suicide), along with some glaring media coverage omissions.

Our global village has some tough neighborhoods. In fact, in the two years 2021-22 exactly 1,100 unfortunate US citizens ‘bought the farm’ beyond US soil. Surprisingly, this total is a dramatic reduction from the 2014-15 period, when 1,723 estadounidences died overseas of non-natural causes. Let’s say a blessing to those who died in a foreign land. We have no doubt lost some talented ambassadors of goodwill. Some fatalities were in the pursuit of happiness. Crossing a London street after a pint (then looking the wrong way), or a sunset booze cruise man-overboard can at least be understood with a twinge of ‘oh well…’

More chilling and tragic are of course overseas homicides. Worldwide homicides of US citizens fell significantly (from 339 to 196) from 2014-15 compared to ’21-22. Other categories (shown below) also experienced significant declines since 2014-15. It’s not easy to pinpoint why there have been declining non-natural deaths. The number of US citizens living overseas has grown significantly over the last decade (currently believed to be over 11 million, worldwide). COVID-19 was certainly a factor, keeping us indoors and away from potentially dangerous situations.

Mexico detractors will paint how more Americans die of non-natural causes in Mexico than in any other country. This is true: 393 US citizen deaths of non-natural causes occurred in the 24 months 2021-2022, 36% of the global total. Yes, more US citizens die in Mexico, but this is more a function of our visitation frequency and how personal safety in Mexico means avoiding certain places and situations. So, before you start posting on Truth Social, bear in mind this singular stat does not tell the whole story. While this 36% figure has risen (from 28% in ’14-15), total Mexico deaths have fallen dramatically from a 2014-15 figure of 488 non-natural deaths.

So, is Mexico getting safer? A 24% drop sounds like good news. But lurking behind these garish statistics are some troubling trends. The “other accidents” (64 fatalities) occurring across Mexico are alarming (38% of the global total). One can only imagine these circumstances, undisclosed in the reporting. Is the State Department needing to update its categories?

Homicide figures can be startling in ways both alarming and (for the casual beach visitor) reassuring. Even the bad news requires some contextual boundaries. Yes, Mexico accounted for 62% of worldwide homicides involving US citizens, claiming 121 of the 196 victims (over two years). But the details of where these homicides occurred are telling. It’s no surprise how northern Mexican border states (six in total) are in a war with narco-traffickers who covet transit routes to US consumers. This region, taken as a whole accounts for 68% % of US citizen homicides in Mexico. Bad outcomes happen across the entire 2,000-mile line in the sand. Baja California State leads with the most homicides of US citizens in all of Mexico with 37 in 2021-22.

What’s shocking is how there is very scant media interest in covering the homicides of US citizens in Mexican border states. When an American is killed in a beach destination the alarmist coverage is loud and will lead to the State Department issuing travel warnings. But another shooting of a US citizen along the border is shrugged off, ignored.

Why is this? If “Are you a US citizen?” is answered by holding a US passport, why would it matter to the media where (as an American) you were a homicide victim? I can only assume the lack of interest is tied to an assumption that this subset of US citizens is perceived to be less worthy of attention, perhaps because of their likelihood of being of Mexican descent, non-white, and involved (it’s supposed) in some dangerous liaisons in a dangerous region of Mexico. If every US citizen is equally valued, where’s the media attention for these homicides?

Are you headed on a beach vacation to Mexico? The homicide figures at popular beach locations are also startling but in a positive way: just seven total, over 24 months (five in Quintana Roo and two in Puerto Vallarta). In 2021-22, over 40 million U.S. citizens traveled to and from Mexico via plane, according to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics. So, doing the math around the likelihood of being a homicide victim while on a non-border beach vacation, the stats tell us the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor.

So, is Mexico safe? The hundreds of thousands of us who call it home look at ‘safety’ through a different lens. Is it safe to drive a car? Not entirely. How about riding a bike? Not really. Walking on sidewalks? Uh, sometimes no. Accidents happen, and some of us are luckier (and smarter) to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s part of death and life in Mexico.

Greg Custer has worked in Mexico’s tourism industry for over 40 years and resided in Ajijic, Jalisco since 2015. He operates