MEXICO -- Mexico is a safer country than the United States, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador argued on Monday, weeks after the high-profile kidnapping of four Americans drew global attention to the country's security crisis.
"Mexico is safer than the United States. There is no issue with traveling safely through Mexico. That's something the US citizens also know, just like our fellow Mexicans that live in the US," he said during his daily morning press briefing.
The kidnapped Americans were traveling in the Mexican border city of Matamoros in early March when they came under attack by gunmen believed to be linked to the Gulf cartel. Two of the Americans and a Mexican bystander died in the incident.
On Friday, the Texas Department of Public Safety advised that residents avoid travel to Mexico during spring break, citing the risk of cartel violence.
Asked by a local reporter about security in Mexico, López Obrador cited his country's popularity with American tourists and expats, who have descended upon popular coastal areas as well as Mexico City in recent years to take advantage of the warmer weather and cheaper cost of living. US travelers generate billions in revenue for Mexico annually.
"US government alerts say that it's safe to only travel [in the states of] Campeche and Yucatan. If that were the case, so many Americans wouldn't be coming in to live in Mexico City and the rest of the country. In the past few years is when more Americans have come to live in Mexico. So, what's happening? Why the paranoia?"
The Mexican president also claimed there was "a campaign against Mexico from conservative US politicians that don't want this country to keep developing for the good of the Mexican people."
While parts of Mexico are established touristic destinations, violent crime including kidnapping and human trafficking plague parts of the country, particularly in border areas. Mexico's overall homicide rate is among the highest in the world, and the country has been troubled by an epidemic of disappearances with more than 100,000 Mexicans and migrants still missing.
Accusations of inaction and corruption against Mexican officials have also eroded public trust; last year, a Mexican government report blamed the country's own military and police for the infamous disappearance of 43 students in 2014.
The US State Department has "do not travel" advisories in place for six of Mexico's 32 states, including northeast Tamaulipas state, where Matamoros is located. It warns Americans to "reconsider travel" to seven Mexican states and "exercise increased caution" in 17 states.
Canada and the United Kingdom also have detailed travel warnings for Mexico.
'We don't take orders from anyone'
Six people have been arrested in relation to the deadly Matamoros kidnapping, and Mexico has dispatched hundreds of security forces to the area in what the defense ministry described as a move to safeguard "the well-being of citizens."
But the incident has also sparked ongoing tension between the Mexican president and US officials.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, where the victims of the Matamoros attack are from, said he was planning to introduce legislation that would designate the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, and authorize the US military to operate in Mexico to dismantle drug labs, which are typically run by such criminal organizations.
López Obrador described the notion as an "offense to the people of Mexico" and a "lack of respect for our independence."
"We are not a protectorate of the United States or a colony of the United States. Mexico is a free, independent, sovereign country. We don't take orders from anyone," López Obrador said at a news conference.
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