AZ - Cartel crimes hurting Valley's reputation as tourist destination

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Galaxy, Apr 26, 2009.

  1. Galaxy

    Galaxy Registered+

    Cartel crimes hurting Valley's reputation as tourist destination

    by Erin Kelly - Apr. 26, 2009 12:00 AM
    Republic Washington Bureau

    WASHINGTON - Outside Arizona, the Valley of the Sun is losing its shine.

    Phoenix's bright image as a Mecca for golfers, conventioneers and snowbirds is being clouded over by dark tales of brutal Mexican drug cartels snatching rival smugglers from Valley homes and holding them for ransom.

    The result is anxious travelers faced with frightening headlines and worried politicians and tourism officials trying to cope with what they call exaggerated tales of violence. "I'm concerned about the city's image," Mayor Phil Gordon said. "When I travel to places like Washington or Chicago, people ask me what's going on here. Some people have the impression that we're some sort of cowboy city instead of the fifth-largest city in America."

    Almost every congressional hearing that mentions Phoenix invokes the city's unwelcome new moniker as "the kidnapping capital of America," a title re- peated in newspaper headlines from Los Angeles to London.

    Although the 725 kidnappings-for-ransom reported in Phoenix during the past two years have been mostly bad guys abducting other bad guys from drophouses full of smuggled immigrants and drugs, congressional leaders are publicly warning that that could change.

    "Innocent victims are at risk of being caught in the crossfire," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., during a recent meeting of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He is chairman of the committee, whose Monday hearing in Phoenix on border violence helped shine a national spotlight on the problem.

    That spotlight is intense: National and international news outlets talk dramatically about the brutal Mexico drug wars that are spilling over the border and into cities across America, Phoenix included. Adding to the public's perceptions: Federal inquiries into the controversial immigration-enforcement tactics of Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who in recent months also has appeared on reality TV and a comedy show.

    "Phoenix frights, Wild West drug war threat to Brits," said a March 1 headline from London's Daily Star Sunday. "Mexican gangs are caught in bloody clashes in Arizona, which draws 120,000 British holidaymakers every year to its Wild West landmarks," the paper reported.

    "Kidnap capital; deadly distinction," was the title of a Feb. 11 segment on ABC News' "Nightline." The show featured a recording of a kidnap victim pleading with his wife to send ransom money before his abductors cut off his hand.

    "Lawmakers want look at sheriff in Arizona," said a Feb. 14 headline in the influential New York Times.

    Potential visitors are noticing.

    "There are certain places in Phoenix I would never go right now due to people being kidnapped and being held for ransom," said an April 21 post to a CBS Sports' online message board of baseball fans discussing the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    "Phoenix is getting a bad rap on the East Coast," a later post responded.

    Phoenix tourism officials view many of the news stories as exaggerated hype. They say the bad publicity hasn't affected the city the way negative news about drug-cartel violence in Mexico has affected that country. Tourism in Mexican border towns such as Tijuana has plunged as much as 90 percent.

    In the Valley, two or three tourists a month have been calling the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau asking about drug violence and kidnappings, said Douglas MacKenzie, the bureau's communications director.

    "I've given them information from the Phoenix police chief about how they're tackling the problem, and I reassure them that the resorts and hotels are far removed from this type of activity," he said. "The worst thing that can happen to a visitor here is that their suntan lotion will be stolen from the resort pool."

    Phoenix's tourism industry already has been hit hard by the recession, and bad publicity about border violence isn't going to help.

    The hotel occupancy rate in Phoenix dropped nearly 20 percent from February 2008 to February 2009. That's twice the national decline, according to Smith Travel Research, which attributed the plunge to the fact that the luxury segment of the travel industry has been devastated by the bad economy.

    "You used to have companies that would take 400 of their best clients to a Phoenix resort and spend millions of dollars," said Jeff Higley, vice president of communications for Smith Travel. "Now, some of those same companies, bankers and big Wall Street firms, are getting federal (bailout) money, and they can't do that any more."

    If the bad press over kidnappings is playing any role, "I suspect it's a small one," Higley said.

    Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell, D-Tempe, agrees.

    "It's like when you hear about tornadoes in the Midwest or mudslides in California," he said. "Most people understand that these things are confined to certain areas, and they aren't going to avoid an entire state or city because of it."

    Phoenix police are quick to point out that violent crime - murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - has gone down in recent years, dropping from 11,240 reported incidents in 2006 to 10,864 in 2008.

    Still, 34-year-old Washington, D.C., resident Mike Andrews said he would think twice about vacationing in Phoenix because of the reports of kidnapping and border violence.

    "I guess I could go wearing a T-shirt that says, 'Tourist: Don't shoot,' " he said.

    Reach the reporter at ekelly@gannett.com.
     
  2. Galaxy

    Galaxy Registered+

    AZ - Mayor testifies about border-related violence

    Mayor testifies about border-related violence

    By Ofelia McCollough
    Published Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:10 AM MDT

    Nogales Mayor Octavio Garcia-Von Borstel had the opportunity in Phoenix on Monday to address the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding issues stemming from violence involving drug cartels in Mexico.

    “Since May 2007, the City of Nogales, Arizona, has been witness to several brutal slayings,” Mayor Octavio Garcia-Von Borstel said.

    *
    The committee listened to local and state officials who are on the front lines dealing with the effects of criminal organizations that smuggle humans and drugs into the United States.

    Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl along with Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) listened to Garcia-Von Borstel, Gov. Jan Brewer, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, Attorney General Terry Goddard, Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. and Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio at Monday’s hearing. It was the second such meeting on border security. The first hearing was held in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

    “Since May 2007, the City of Nogales, Arizona, has been witness to several brutal slaying that occurred between drug-cartels in our Sister City of Nogales Sonora in Mexico,” Garcia-Von Borstel told the panel. “While the violence in Mexico is serious, it does appear that it is rarely perpetrated against innocent parties or tourists.

    “In fact, it is not random violence. Rather, the Department of National Drug Intelligence Center has identified that it is tied to Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. They are the greatest organized crime threat facing the United States today,” the mayor said.

    “Whether merited or not, the perception alone of increased violence in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, has greatly reduced the amount of business and tourist visitors to Nogales, Ariz.� This reduction in business and tourism has had a detrimental effect on our community. This serves to damage our commerce, tourism, and ultimately reduces our precious sales tax which is the main source of revenue for Nogales, Ariz.,” he said.

    "Today the committee visited Arizona to hear directly from local and state elected officials and law enforcement officers who have the difficult job of securing the safety of the citizens of Arizona," said Sen. John McCain.

    Mayor Garcia-Von Borstel thanked the senators for the opportunity to testify at the hearing. “By continuing to work together, we can develop new ideas to refresh our strategies and rise to the current challenge.”

    The purpose of the hearings was to help assess the rising level of violence in northern Mexico and the implications for increased terrorist activity. The panel will also examine how the U.S. government is working with the Mexican government through initiatives such as El Plan de Merida, a State Department program of training and funding assistance for Mexico.

    Finally, the committee will look at the Department of Homeland Security’s role, its personnel needs, the effectiveness of its efforts to coordinate and share information, and the need to ensure the integrity of the Customs and Border Protection workforce.
     
  3. killerweed420

    killerweed420 Registered+

    As long as its mexican drug smugglers killing other mexican drug smugglers I would say its a win win situation.
     

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