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“Is San Miguel de Allende safe in 2019?”

“Is Mexico safe in 2019?”

or

“If San Miguel is not safe, where in Mexico is?"

Only you can answer these questions for yourself or your family.  It is hoped the following is at least a little helpful in that pursuit.

Mexico saw a record number of homicides in 2018.  Through the first half of the year, 2019 is on pace to far exceed that 2018 record.  The increase in violence is largely due to open cartel-on-cartel warfare and the impacts on individuals limited mostly to those involved in cartel activities.  San Miguel de Allende is in the eastern middle of the state of Guanajuato.  The state of Guanajuato that was recently one of the safest regions in Mexico morphed in 2018-2019 to become the most violent state in Mexico.  January through May 2019 added almost 1200 homicides mostly perpetrated in the southern half of Guanajuato state; for perspective, 60 of those homicides occurred in the greater San Miguel de Allende area.      

So let us go through the major categories of crime you might face while in Mexico and/or San Miguel de Allende starting with the most alarming.

Homicides

It is quite clear from news reports detailing the executions throughout Guanajuato state (and Mexico) that there is a battle for territory as the CJNG cartel encroaches on the established territory of Los Zetas and the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel.  In addition to the  traditional illicit drug business, the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel is trying to maintain its hold on a very lucrative multi-billion$ petroleum theft operation.  The resulting gang-on-gang violence accounts for most of the surge in 2018-2019 homicides in Guanajuato state, San Miguel de Allende and Mexico.  

That violence has increased is indisputable and alarming.   Still, it might surprise you to learn that Mexico is safer for U.S. citizens than the U.S. on a per capita basis.  Reviewing the latest records available from the U.S. State Department:

  • 79 U.S. citizens died by homicide in Mexico in 2018.  Based on an estimated 2,700,000 U.S. citizens living in or visiting Mexico, 2018 homicide rate was 2.92 per 100,000.  The U.S. homicide rate has been pretty steady at 5+ per 100,000.   So, for U.S. citizens at least, the risk of being murdered in Mexico is statistically about the same as if you were living in Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, Anaheim, San Diego, Austin, El Paso, Virginia Beach, or Spokane.  There is risk but it is not very different than most places Estadounidenses (United Statesians) are usually comfortable living and working.   
  • During the 16 year period of December 2002 through December 2018, 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in the state of Guanajuato.  Of those 32, 23 are listed by the city in which they were murdered: 5 of 23 murders of U.S. citizens occurred in the municipality of San Miguel de Allende with the remaining 9 of 23 victims meeting their fates in unspecified Guanajuato locales.  

The article “Murder in Mexico: What's the Danger to an American Tourist?” from global security firm Stratfor accesses the risks of a U.S. citizen being murdered in Mexico. Hint: Mexico does not live up to either the negative coverage locally or north-of-the-border.  

As with criminal violence world-wide, arrests of the perpetrators is rare; who is going to step up to be a witness in the prosecution of those crimes?  In the U.S. (with its ever-expanding system of surveillance cameras and 18,000 law enforcement agencies employing close to 1,000,000), arrest rates for gang-related violence bounces below 5%.  It is hardly surprising that Mexico does not do quite that well.  Criminal impunity is as much a fact of life in San Miguel de Allende as in Los Angeles, Chicago or Tijuana.  

Without intending to diminish the inherent heartbreak and tragedy to those who are directly affected, the homicide danger to non-criminal Mexicans and expats in San Miguel de Allende is very low.  The biggest risk is getting caught in the crossfire of the gangs rather than being a target. 

Kidnappings & Extortion

Kidnapping is a specialized area of criminal activity where catching the bad guys tends to stop kidnappings cold.  Since 2017, that is the case in San Miguel de Allende.  In 2017, a months long kidnapping of a French/American expat ended and the victim rescued when an active kidnapping ring was identified and rolled up.  That criminal group had been active for 10 years in San Miguel de Allende led by a fugitive from Chile who was widely perceived by acquaintances as a model citizen raising a family and active in a local school.  Every few years, this one group was responsible for some high profile, targeted kidnappings that included a politician, the daughter-in-law of ex-president Vicente Fox, at least 2 expats living in San Miguel and the owner of fast food chain Pollo Feliz.  Trepidation was high within the expat community.  Since this group was rounded up, concerns over kidnapping have pretty much evaporated. 

Side Note- One type of kidnapping making its way around the globe, including San Miguel de Allende, is “virtual kidnappings”.  This is scam where “kidnappers” contact friends and relatives of an individual they claim to have kidnapped demanding a relatively reasonable but quite urgent ransom.  The urgency is due to the fact that the “victim” was not actually kidnapped and the perpetrators are attempting to get their payout before the “victim” turns up in fine fettle.

Burglary & Home Invasions

Property crime, including burglary of homes and businesses, has been fairly common for a long time in Mexico and San Miguel de Allende; there is a solid reason why so many windows and doors are barred.  There appears to be local burglars and burglars passing through San Miguel de Allende.  The homegrown burglars seem to be localized in specific neighborhoods and tend to be known by law enforcement.  

The main danger of being burglarized is the potential for a face-to-face encounter with the perpetrators who then have to decide whether to risk being recognized and pointed out to the police.  If they don't like that prospect, you could be in grave danger.  Again, it is rare but expats have been murdered because they interrupted a burglary by someone from the neighborhood.  If you encounter a situation where you think someone might be in the house, make a lot of noise as you're backing out and away.  Try NOT to encounter the individual(s) giving them plenty of space to get up and out.

There have been reports in 2019 of violent home invasions.  These occurred over a period of a month or so.  No arrests have been reported but home invasions have dropped off the local grapevine.  It is likely that the people involved have moved on.   FWIW, the home invasions started with a young lady at the front door/gate seeking donations for the local SPCA.  If victims opened their door/gate, a couple of thugs would jump from hiding and force their way in.  Some victims have been brutalized during an invasion.  So be careful about opening doors and gates to strangers.  

Carjacking

There was a rash of carjackings at the end of 2018 and start of 2019.  They mostly involved transportation services between San Miguel de Allende and accessible airports.  Targets of carjacking are usually the shuttle services which present large, expensive vehicles loaded with passengers with luggage, passports and other valuables.  The highway between San Miguel de Allende and Celaya saw regular reports of these carjackings coincident with the unsettled situation in the southern portion of Guanajuato state. The village of Comonfort, between San Miguel de Allende and Celaya, was under the effective control of the Santa Rosa de Lima petroleum theft cartel whose members are believed to have been responsible for the raft of carjackings along the highway south of Comonfort. Mexico’s new president has pushed for aggressive pursuit of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel members and the encroaching CJNG.  As of May 2019, it has been a few months without reports of carjackings in Guanajuato.

Street Crime

Having items disappear from locked cars, getting your wallet lifted on the street, having a wallet swiped from a purse are all regular occurrences based on reports from San Miguel de Allende’s grapevine.  And, unfortunately, there are occasional cases of violent muggings.  

It is worth a note here to point out there have been regular reports for years of specific taxi drivers who have preyed on women by stealing wallets from open purses.  The MO includes a very friendly driver with good English skills who insists on helping his passengers with their bags (San Miguel de Allende taxi drivers are nice enough but exceptional friendliness should trigger your internal warning system).   You can preclude this nonsense by having necessary cash and keys in hand rather than being distracted by digging around in a purse.  

Street crime, more than any other, calls for:

  • use of taxis after dark, 
  • not carrying a purse at all and definitely not carrying a purse cross shoulder (which simply gives a violent mugger a sturdy handle to control their victim), 
  • not wearing expensive jewelry or watches, 
  • keeping smart phone use subtle and to a minimum and 
  • generally keeping profile as a juicy target as low as possible.

This will most likely be the only crime you might encounter.  It is not common but does happen.  By not common, I’d estimate 1 report per month on the San Miguel de Allende grapevine. 

Most Common Dangers

There are more common dangers of visiting San Miguel de Allende than crime.