As people get ready for spring break, state and federal agencies have renewed a warning: do not go to Mexico.
Violence along the border has been an issue for quite some time, but a video shows just how brutal things can get.
Lights from a fluorescent bulb washes over the naked body of a young boy. In a video obtained by Local 2 Investigates, the boy is seen blindfolded and begging his parents to pay the ransom his kidnappers are demanding. The video also shows a man from the waist down repeatedly hitting the boy with a leather belt while stomping and kicking him. The unseen man taunts the boy by asking if he's comfortable or in pain.
Investigators in the United States know the video began circulating in Mexico in August of last year, but tell Local 2 they have not been able to identify the boy in the video or what happened to him. Investigators only know he is from Monterrey, Mexico.
Local 2 Investigates showed the video to independent law enforcement sources who believe it to be authentic and hope it will impress upon families the potential dangers they face when traveling to Mexico.
The Texas Department of Public Safety reports 65 Americans were killed in Mexico last year, but the daily violence south of our border has prompted strict warnings about traveling to that country.
"The industry of kidnapping, specifically in Mexico, is getting more and more violent," said Charlie LeBlanc, president of Houston-based Medex Global Solutions.
Medex Global Solutions specializes in kidnap and ransom negotiations, medical insurance for travelers and security for people visiting or working in a foreign country.
"The concerns that are there need to be all of our concerns since it is a country so close to ours," said LeBlanc. "The violence is too high right now."
The Texas Department of Public Safety has even taken the rare step of warning students and parents not to go to Mexico for Spring Break. The DPS's warning singles out popular spots along the Texas border, like Falcon Lake, where David Hartley was murdered last year. This year, missionary Nancy Davis was murdered 70 miles from the Texas border near the town of Pharr. Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata was killed by cartel members, and two El Paso teens were killed in Juarez. Cartel violence is also steadily growing in Matamoros, just across the border from South Padre.
"In going to the border towns, I would not go," said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc also said there are growing concerns in traditional spring break spots like Cancun, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta.
"Those locations are also becoming troubling," said LeBlanc. "You're starting to see more cartel activity than we've ever seen in the past."
LeBlanc said the concern is not that cartel members are targeting Americans, but that firefights between rival cartels break out frequently and innocent bystanders become collateral damage.
These concerns also prompted three major cruise lines to recently cancel stops in the seaside city of Mazatlan.
LeBlanc warns if people do travel to any of these spots in Mexico to not leave the well worn, crowded tourist zones. LeBlanc urges travelers in Mexico not to take long road trips outside of these tourist areas to visit outlying towns or other attractions, like ancient ruins.
"Cartel members are setting up checkpoints, they're shaking people down for money at best," said LeBlanc. "At worst, they're kidnapping folks and murdering folks."
LeBlanc also said Mexico's burgeoning kidnapping trade no longer exclusively targets the wealthy; those with the appearance of wealth can also be in danger. In other words, be inconspicuous, leave the jewelry and fine clothes at home.
Before you leave your home, register with the U.S. State Department as to where you are visiting. Also, get a map of the area you're visiting to find out where hospitals and American embassies or consulates are located.
LeBlanc also urged travelers to buy a cell phone that works internationally and then learn how to dial a number from a foreign country.
Lastly, consider buying medical insurance for travelers. If you get hurt, many places do not take American health insurance and won't treat you unless you pay up front.