Overall Crime and Safety Situation
In 2011, Monterrey and the states comprising the Consulate General’s district (Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas) saw a dramatic rise in the level of violence, well above the previous year. Nuevo Leon saw an exponential increase in homicides from the previous years (1,782 in 2011 from 828 in 2010) that translates to a 192% increase. These figures are up from only three years ago (2009) when homicides totaled 267. Coahuila borders Nuevo Leon and is home to many U.S. manufacturing companies. The state capital of Saltillo experienced a meteoric rise in violence in the second half of 2011, after a Casino Royale fire that killed 52 people in Monterrey. With the assistance of 1,800 federal troops sent to Nuevo Leon to help counter the transnational crime organization (TCO) presence, the violence started pushing into Coahuila and specifically into Saltillo. As a result, Coahuila saw a year-over-year rise in deaths of 198%, higher than Nuevo Leon’s 192%.
As outlined in previous OSAC Crime and Safety Reports, geographical distances, inaccurate local reporting, and inherent travel security concerns coalesce and inhibit a crystal clear “snap shot” of events.
Carjacking and vehicle theft rates in Monterrey have gone up considerably. Rates of car thefts in Monterrey rose from 606 in 2007 to 803 in 2011 per 100,000 residents. Further, car theft in Monterrey is double the national average, and carjackings are three times higher in Monterrey than in the rest of Mexico. The vast majority of stolen cars were large SUVs and pick-ups, but any type vehicle can be targeted. Presumably, many of these larger vehicles were used to replace cartel losses during confrontations. Most break-ins were due to valuables being left in plain sight in parked vehicles.
Home invasion robberies are rare in Monterrey, but residential burglaries are common, especially around the holidays when many homes are left vacant by vacationing families. Centrally-monitored residential alarms are strongly encouraged.
Visitors are encouraged to avoid using ATM bank machines in dark or isolated areas.
Travelers are especially vulnerable when visiting local "red-light districts," particularly if they are departing alone in the early hours of the morning. Use caution and common sense as when visiting any foreign country. Official Americans are not permitted to attend local adult entertainment venues or casinos.
There is no evidence to indicate that criminals are specifically targeting U.S. citizens. However, this observation should not provide foreign visitors (including Americans) with a false sense of security. The Consulate has documented numerous victims of homicides and kidnappings in the nearby border region; a U.S. passport does not act as a shield against crimes of opportunity or random violence.
If traveling by road, travelers should exercise caution at all times and avoid traveling at night whenever possible. Drivers on extended road trips, such as those driving to the interior of Mexico from the U.S., should make sure to get adequate rest. Americans are killed each year in Monterrey’s consular district in accidents involving driver fatigue. Travel with at least half a tank of gasoline when traveling in more remote areas and defer movement at night along isolated highways. In addition, do not hitchhike or offer rides to strangers anywhere in Mexico. Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas or walk alone on lightly frequented trails.
Certain main routes in and out of Monterrey have seen cartel initiated car-jackings and blockades. Travelers should pay close attention to local news reports and Consulate Warden Messages to reduce their chances of encountering these situations.
If stranded on the highway due to vehicle malfunction, dial 078 for roadside assistance. This service is provided free of charge by Mexico’s Department of Tourism to all road travelers. More information on the services offered can be found on the Department of Tourism website website.
American interests in Monterrey are generally not targets of political violence. There is no history of demonstrators targeting American businesses.
Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime
TCOs continue to operate throughout Monterrey and its five state consular district. All five states experienced a significant increase of TCO-related violence. Nuevo Leon ranked second in Mexico for TCO-related deaths, and Durango ranked fifth (according to El Norte: Grupo Reforma). TCO groups fund their organizations through extortions, robbery, kidnappings, narcotics trade, and piracy of goods.
Small fissures within the Gulf Cartel and Zeta TCOs (formerly known as Drug Trafficking Organizations - DTOs) broke wide open in January 2010. This resulted in a power struggle between the two groups and with others seeking to exhort control over the lucrative northeast triangle drug shipment corridor. Their turf battles, in large part, have played out in the cities and streets of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas and, to a lesser extent, in surrounding states. The TCOs continue to use Improvised Explosive Devices and Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices with low success. All consular districts have seen a sharp rise in grenade usage and seizures -- a worrying trend.
In July 2011, a shooting occurred just outside of Monterrey, resulting in the assassination of two of the Consul General’s personal bodyguards who were also Nuevo Leon State police officers.
Mexican federal and state authorities had several successes and losses in 2011. A number of mid- and upper-level TCO “plaza bosses” and their lieutenants were arrested or killed in the northeast. Many of the higher level arrests were a direct result of the Casino Royale fire and the bad press brought forth by the incident for the TCOs. Both the military and police continue to battle against the cartels’ leadership and infrastructure, resulting in varying degrees of impact to the TCOs.
International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism
The threat from international terrorist groups is low.
Large scale public demonstrations or strikes are rare in Monterrey. Travelers should avoid demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the Mexican authorities. The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and such actions may result in detention and/or deportation.
Small peaceful demonstrations occur periodically at the Mexican Procuderia (Mexican Attorney General) office near the U.S. Consulate Monterrey. These protests typically form along main arteries around the city and caused major traffic jams.
Monterrey is prone to flash floods during the hurricane season. It is common for streets to flood and for parts of the city to be completely cut-off from other areas during periods of heavy rains. In July 2010, Hurricane Alex caused tremendous damage to the roads around Monterrey and especially to those near riverbeds. Avoid driving or walking in flooded areas. Every year in Monterrey, a number of deaths are attributed to pedestrians or vehicles being swept away by rushing water in flooded areas. The city is still rebuilding from Hurricane Alex, and as a result, traffic patterns change without notice, and heavy traffic causes major traffic jams throughout the city.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
Industrial accidents are always a concern in highly-industrialized areas of the city and along rail lines. The state of Nuevo Leon has a highly-trained team (Proteccion Civil) that can handle most industrial accidents, including hazmat spills.
Transportation accidents are very common along the highways leading to and from the city and are often due to aggressive driving behavior. Monterrey sits astride one of the busiest transportation corridors in Mexico, and many of the highways are crowded with trucks laden with cargo.
Overall, official abduction rates for the greater Monterrey area soared to record levels of 100-200 per month at various points throughout the year. As reported in 2010, kidnapping groups continue to target mid-level Mexican business executives and entrepreneurs. Kidnapping, however, is widely underreported in Mexico due to civilian fears of police collusion with kidnappers. Another factor in the disparity of reporting revolves around the differences between U.S. and Mexican criminal code definitions for that particular crime. This fear has proven to be accurate in several instances. Those who survive relayed stories of horrific encounters at the hands of their abductors that oftentimes included torture and rape. Certain kidnapping groups appear to operate with some level of impunity and TCO protection; this makes already the stretched anti-kidnapping units’ jobs exponentially more difficult. In a particularly unsettling incident, one of the local police departments was using its jail cells to house approximately 17 kidnapping victims for an unknown period. Fortunately, state and federal authorities raided the jail and rescued all the victims, while arresting the police officers.
Some kidnap victims are U.S. citizens. The U.S. Consulate General Monterrey was apprised of 17 kidnappings of U.S. citizens in 2011 in its consular district; all of those are unresolved. There were also 11 homicides of U.S. citizens that were the result of a kidnapping. These numbers do not account for unreported kidnappings.
U.S. Consulate Monterrey recommends that victims’ families consider contacting local authorities to help resolve a kidnapping matter. Families of kidnap victims who are U.S. citizens should contact their local FBI office for assistance.
Virtual kidnapping continues to be a common criminal theme. Extortionists call prospective victims on the telephone, posing as kidnappers, and demand payments in return for the release of an allegedly detained family member, usually a child. Persons receiving such calls should be extremely skeptical; most such demands or threats are baseless. Persons receiving such calls should contact the local police immediately by dialing 066. Those living in Monterrey are advised to have unlisted land line numbers and screen their calls from unknown numbers using an answering machine. Family members should also have a “code word” that is used in case any family member does receive a kidnapping call; with it, they are able to test the veracity of the kidnapping by asking for the password.
Drugs and Narco-terrorism
Drug-related violence is reaching all-time highs in northeastern Mexico. The various cartels in the region have locked horns in what appears to be a long-term struggle for supremacy and survival. Many civilians in the Monterrey area have also been caught in the crossfire between rival cartels or cartels and the military. On August 25, 2011, TCOs set a local casino on fire, which led to the death of 52 people. Local media provides public service announcements on television and in the newspapers, advising citizens what they should do if caught in the middle of an armed encounter.
Cartel propaganda banners (narco-mantas) continue to appear throughout the consular district.
As the Monterrey area is acknowledged to be a leading industrial dynamo for Mexico (accounting for approximately 10 percent of the country’s GDP), more government resources began trickling in in an attempt to stem some of the TCO violence. A new state police force, “Fuerza Civil,” has been established with a goal of approximately 14,000 new officers by 2015. Nuevo Leon recruited throughout Mexico to staff this new, higher paid, better trained, and (theoretically) less corruptible police force. They have graduated two classes of approximately 422 officers in each class. The model is a hybrid between what state police academies are like in the U.S. and a military boot camp.
Police response and professionalism varies widely depending on the municipality in the Monterrey metropolitan area. A few police departments are well-trained, well-paid, and professional while police departments in other areas may not be as efficient or responsive. Police response can vary widely depending on the type of emergency and area. State, federal, and military forces have taken up the security responsibilities in certain areas to an attempt to stabilize these remote areas.
Travelers should be cautious in interacting with local law enforcement officials and be cognizant that, should they become a victim of crime, they will likely not receive the same response and support from the local law enforcement that they would in the U.S. For example, the crime resolution rate for some states in the consular district is less than two percent, and the nationwide rate is around 10 percent.
Although police services may not be equal to those in the U.S., visitors are strongly encouraged to contact the police in an emergency. U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. For information regarding assistance for American citizens who become victims of a crime, please contact the American Citizen Services office at (81) 8047-3145 during work hours 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or the Duty Officer at (81) 8362-9126 outside work hours.
Red Cross/Ambulance: 065
Roadside Assistance: 075
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Police corruption, as widely reported by the media, continues to be a problem. Serious corruption issues continue to plague most local police departments. Several police forces have either been disbanded by the state or federal authorities or have been “held” while investigations and confidence testing was conducted by the state of federal forces. Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a traffic fine or other penalty is a crime in Mexico. If during a traffic stop or other detention, the police demand a bribe, visitors should refuse to pay the bribe. If detained or harassed by the police, visitors should contact American Citizen Services at (81) 8047-3100.
After hours, American Citizens needing emergency assistance from the Consulate may call the duty officer at (81)8362-9126.
Nuevo Leon Anticorruption/corruptel: 070
Monterrey has adequate medical facilities. Facilities outside of the metropolitan area are more limited. In an emergency, dial 066 or 065 for an ambulance. Wait times for ambulances can vary greatly. Permanent residents in Monterrey are encouraged to contract a private ambulance service in order to ensure prompt service.
Contact Information for Local Hospitals and Clinics
The hospitals used most frequently by American visitors are:
San Jose Hospital
Av. Morones Prieto No. 3000 PTE
Monterrey, N.L. 64710
Hospital Christus Muguerza
Av. Hidalgo 2525 Pte.
Hospital Santa Engracia
Av. Frida Kahlo #180
San Pedro Garza Garcia, N.L. 66260
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Although Monterrey is reported to have lower non-drug related crime rates than other Mexican cities, visitors are urged to remain vigilant and use common sense during their stay. Local drug consumption and trafficking has increased in the last several years, leading to increased territorial disputes and violence between cartels. Travelers should leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place or at home. All visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes where available, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, and carry only the cash or credit cards that will be needed on each outing.
Because of the increased threat of narco-related violence and crime, the U.S. Consulate General Monterrey limited travel of its employees to the states of Durango and Coahuila. Portions of Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas are also limited for Consulate employees. U.S. government employees must also follow a curfew of 12am through 6am. As exceptionally violent situations erupt, notices will be sent and posted on the web indicating the nature of the concern and the expected time period for which the restriction would remain in place.
Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally considered safe. Use of street, or gypsy, taxis is strongly discouraged. Visitors should use radio taxis or hotel transportation services. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Victims, who are almost always unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and ATMs. U.S. citizens should be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets). U.S. and Mexican citizens are sometimes accosted on the street and forced to withdraw money from their accounts using their ATM cards.
Embassy Contact Numbers
U.S. Consulate General Monterrey (81) 8047-3100
Av Constitucion #411 PTE
Monterrey, N.L. 64006
After-hours, American Citizens needing emergency assistance from the Consulate may call the duty officer at (81) 8362-9126.
OSAC Country Council
Monterrey is re-establishing its OSAC Country Council. POC is RSO Maria DeLeon, DeLeonM@state.gov, tel. 52 81 8047-3100 ext. 3206.