OPINION: On May 1, 2015, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is suspected in statewide attacks as a response to a government crackdown on the group. Since these attacks the US State Department has urged travelers in Jalisco to use caution, while the Canadian warning has been much tougher and singling out Puerto Vallarta as a concern. Shortly following the government warnings, the cruise industry began canceling scheduled ports of call in Puerto Vallarta and hotels have begun to see more cancellations, a ripple effect that cannot be forecasted but is hoped to have a short lifespan.
During the alleged cartel attacks in the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta was also impacted with a dozen businesses falling victim to arson, half of which were closed for the holidays. Thankfully there were no deaths in our city or reported serious injuries.
Now the debate over safety in Puerto Vallarta has become the heated topic locally and internationally on social media, blogs, and news outlets. Much conclusion is made about safety based on fear and not the evidence of safety with proven data.
When someone says they don’t believe flying is safe, the first reaction is to tell that person to look at the real numbers and the probability of an accident. Most of the time their views are discredited as exaggerated fears and they are ridiculed by friends for such nonsense.
Now we are debating the safety of Puerto Vallarta and we should take the same approach, looking at fact based data and probabilities of becoming a victim of violence in the city. As mentioned, no one was killed or seriously injured in Puerto Vallarta during the attacks last week, so based on the system law enforcement uses to rank the safety of a city, Puerto Vallarta’s safety numbers have been unchanged. Surely the fear factor has risen, but rarely do fear and safety share a lot in common.
I use the example of clown fear often when talking about this subject. There is a difference saying ‘I don’t go to the circus because I am scared of clowns’ vs. ‘I don’t go to the circus because clowns are not safe.’ Right now the argument is ‘I don’t want to go to Puerto Vallarta because I am scared’ and has little to do with ‘I don’t want to go to Puerto Vallarta because it’s not safe,’ yet so many people are using the safety excuse because it takes the responsibility off their unreasonable fears that are not based on any real evidence.
The debate happening around Puerto Vallarta’s safety has little to do with safety and a lot to do with personal fear, which is an emotion. You will not convince someone scared of clowns that they are being irrational, for them the fear is real but unwarranted by real statistics of clown slashers.
Can Puerto Vallarta experience more cartel activity tomorrow, next week, or any time in the future? Yes, there is a probability of that. Can someone walk into Disney and shoot people tomorrow, next week, or any time in the future? Yes, there is a probability of that too. Can someone wearing a clown costume stab someone tomorrow, next week, or at some time in the future? Yes, that too is probable. Will an airplane crash tomorrow, next week, or at some time in the future? Yes, that too is also a probability. All of these events are probable, and in fact very probable to happen at some point, yet no one is debating the safety of flying, Disney, or the circus, and certainly there have not been any government announcements about every probable event that could or might happen in the world because it has happened before. For instance, there is no travel warning for California, yet it very often suffers from earthquakes and no one can deny that there will be one again. More people have been killed in California from earthquakes than in Puerto Vallarta from violence, and another earthquake is a certainty, yet another violent event in Puerto Vallarta is only a probability.
… OK, off my soapbox.
I won’t criticize the fears of people, I know fear is real to the people who hold them, and we all have them. I have an extreme fear of heights. Even crossing pedestrian bridges that go over roads scare me. I walk as fast as possible with eyes firmly focused on a dot at the other end. Even the bridges enclosed by fencing that should relieve my fear of falling does not add any comfort. My friends are aware of this fear and they laugh, I even laugh because I have come to understand the ridiculousness of my fear, but it is still real for me.
I blame my fear of heights on my older brother. Growing up there was a state park with a large metal outlook tower where people could reach the top by stairs. The first time we visited the park and started the walk of the tower stairs, my brother would begin jumping and shaking the tower while making loud metal clanging sounds on the stairs, and screaming ‘watch out, you’re going to fall.’ Now it is an unrealistic fear and I recognize that, even though it is a crippling fear at times. However, because I understand my fear of heights has nothing to do with actual safety, I would never tell people it isn’t safe to cross the pedestrian bridge or climb a lookout tower.
I recently read a couple’s story on Facebook about their excitement planning a visit to Puerto Vallarta on their second honeymoon. They were scheduled to depart from their home on May 3, however in a rush to judgement out of fear they canceled their honeymoon and stayed home after reading reports of the May 1 events. Since then, thousands of tourists have visited the city without incident. No tourist has been reported killed and no reports of violence in the city during their would-be honeymoon. Sadly they missed an opportunity based on fear yet continued to blame safety issues that have largely been determined by fear and not reality. That is a choice they made, I know I have missed many amazing opportunities in my life by making choices based on my fear of heights.
There are a lot of facts about Puerto Vallarta safety, and those facts were not changed by recent events. The travel warnings by the US and Canadian government were issued based on fear, not on facts. May 1, when these incidents occurred, Labor Day was celebrated throughout much of the world. Violence erupted in over 100 cities worldwide through Asia and Europe; however no travel warnings were issued in these countries where unrest took place. The difference is that the word ‘cartel’ strikes fear in people, while saying citizens turning against their own government is simply democracy at work.
The world comes with risk, but that doesn’t mean we need to greet risk with fear. We miss so much in life by succumbing to fear, trust me, I know. Don’t let misplaced fear rob you of the life experiences that await you each day.
Puerto Vallarta is safe, even if your fear is trying to tell you something else. Now I have the nerve to walk across a pedestrian bridge… at this moment… wish me luck.
These are the opinions of Ian Hayden Parker and may not reflect the opinions of PVDN.