Laura Fraser

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San Miguel de Allende

I’m in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a charming and peaceful colonial town, which these days seems like a ghost town. The reason is that the U.S. media have scared people away. You can’t go on Fox News without hearing shrill and macabre reports about all the violence in Mexico, and then Dateline just re-aired a long piece about a kidnapping in San Miguel de Allende that effectively kidnapped all the tourists away.

Everyone in San Miguel de Allende is hurting from this bad publicity: restaurant owners, shopkeepers, hotel managers. The town of 60,000 relies heavily on tourists and its ex-pat population, but this year not only the tourists are staying away, but a lot of the second homeowners from Texas who are afraid to cross the border.

There is no doubt that there has been horrible violence in Mexico due to drug wars between warring factions. But that violence has, for the most part, been restricted to “entre ellos,” or between them, the drug factions. The violence has also been restricted to certain parts of the country—and San Miguel de Allende is not one of them.

San Miguel de Allende is so safe that I feel comfortable walking around by myself at 2:00 in the morning. I read the police blotter, which mainly consists of a handful of incidents of drunken conduct, domestic violence, and breaking into cars. That’s fairly tame by American standards.

What really has kept people away from this town is a report on Dateline about a kidnapping. Over and over I hear that people have cancelled their reservations and resolve never to return to San Miguel because of the danger that gringos can be randomly kidnapped for extortion and torture.

But that’s not what happened in San Miguel de Allende, though the Dateline show would make you believe that. The story has all the makings of great TV: A picturesque town, a blond actress-wife with little kids, a son of a prominent Mexican family who was seemingly blameless. No doubt it will make a big-selling book, and a movie.

The story is truly terrible. Eduardo Garcia Valseca, son of a newspaper magnate, was kidnapped when he was with his wife, American-born commercial actress Jayne Rager Valseca. He was kept for months, and while she scrounged for some money to pay the kidnappers, he was systematically shot, kept in a hole, and starved. He finally returned home a skeleton.

But Valseca wasn’t just any guy walking down the street. The word from all quarters in San Miguel de Allende is that he had a lot of complicated business dealings with a lot of powerful people.

I don’t know what happened, only that residents of San  Miguel de Allende are outraged about the Dateline show and say it was one-sided and dramatized in a way that has made people afraid of coming to the town. Locals have circulated a petition saying that while they prayed for the family during the kidnapping, they know feel the family has turned against their community and their friends—who are not the kidnappers, but suffering by association.

San Miguel de Allende is a safe place to visit. Of course, bad things can happen to people anywhere, but San Miguel de Allende is tranquilo. The kidnapping and the narcotrafficante murders make for sensational news media, but it reminds me a lot of the media coverage after San Francisco’s last big earthquake: all you saw on TV were pictures of devastation, so that everyone thought all their relatives in San Francisco were dead. But the actual damage was small, it’s just that the media likes to focus on, and exaggerate, scary news.

The Dateline piece was irresponsible journalism, and is the cause of many, many people in this town losing their jobs. Fox News screaming about Mexican violence is irresponsible, too. There are problems with corruption and violence in Mexico, to be sure, but take a look anywhere else in the world. Then come visit San Miguel de Allende to relax.

22 Responses to “Media exaggerates Mexico dangers”

  1. Brenda Roper Says:

    I’m coming and too bad about all the negative publicity but such is the mentality of many people with little common sense and less critical thinking skills. Hadn’t even heard about the kidnapping in SMA. I have an expat friend in Puerto Vallarta whose business is also suffering because of all the drug cartel violence coverage. . .Loved your latest book by the way. –will you be in SMA in January? Love to meet you.

  2. deborah matheson Says:

    Hey Laura,
    Thanks for this great article. Rich and I spent a month in San Miguel about six years ago and would love to return. I will spread the word and try to come visit in the next year. I’ll get your address and we can catch up. Love to see that us you were building while we were all in boot camp!



  3. Dulany Woodward Says:

    What about your writing seminar there? Any takers? It may be the travel that has folks a little spooked. Hope it gets better for everyone.

  4. Ren Provo Says:

    Laura I’m really enjoying your latest novel. Perhaps justice can be served by revising the tale to happen in the town of the Dateline editor? Get your pen flowing… We can’t wait to come down and visit San Miguel de Allende. Cheers!

  5. cheryl finnegan Says:

    Well said! I absolutely agree. The kidnapping was not random – it was most definitely provoked (not that anyone deserves to be kidnapped and tortured), but as you said – you don’t mess with “Tony”.

    I live between San Miguel and Mexico City. Of course the city is a place that you tend to be on guard walking the streets, but no more than I am in NYC or Paris. What most American’s don’t realize is that Mexico is one of the most sophisticated places in the world! An educated mexican household usually speaks at least 2 or more languages, has staff to cook, clean, and drive for them. The restaurants and amenities are first class – and to be honest – I feel less threatened than most – because I am American. A kidnapper is not interested in a random gringa! Their targets are wealthy Mexicans.

    And as far as San Miguel goes – it would be comparable to a cute little town in the Hamptons – or some remote artsy community up the California coast. Dangerous!?!?! Far from it!

  6. Diane Patience Says:

    I totally agree with the above. I am a part time resident of San Miguel and know this story about the Valsecas to be as reported above. What a shame. If you want another take on the situation in Mexico google Linda Ellerbee’s article on the same subject.

  7. Barbara Lowder Says:

    At last somebody has the nerve to put this in the right perspective…Datelines irresponsible newscasting and Fox News should be off the Air.They are only after sensationalism and not after the truth.

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  9. jackie brummund Says:

    I agree 100% with this article. I have lived here since ’99. after years in europe, china, india, thailand and the USA – I have never felt as safe as I do in san miguel de allende. often I am still ‘on my way home’ after midnight and not once did I encounter any problems – a female traveling by scooter – living in a mexican neighborhood. people are kind, gracious and helpful and if there were a better place, we’d be living there (those of us who are HERE are here by choice) . we love mexico and its culture, it gentle ways and people. crimes reported are related to drug issues, and drug crimes are the same world wide. they do not effect us here in san miguel, except that they have scared off tourism. as the writer expresses: go and take a look anywhere else in the world . then come to san miguel to enjoy life fully – and to relax.

  10. Penelope Says:

    A few “reality checks” – SMA is not a city of 60,000 -there are over 140,000 people here including the surrounding unincorporated areas. Do not assess the safety by the crime statistics you read in Atention – most crime here is unreported because noone trusts the police. Finally, please do not give the impression one can safely stroll around at 2 am. There are very few places in the world to do this, SMA is not one. Please consider the safety of your “Workshop” customers – give them accurate information. Ciao, Penelope – 25 years in SMA without being robbed, raped or kidnapped. But I am VERY careful.

  11. George Edwards Says:

    I’m coming this week for eight nights. I canceled in May with regrets because our four friends backed out. “Sissies”, I do not believe so. The trip between Laredo and Monterrey is dangerous. Our friends (Mexican) from Monterrey are trying to sell and move to Dallas. I guess I’ll just have to be thought of as a sissy while in SMA, because I am from Texas. Too bad!

  12. Alexis White Says:

    Thanks for this. I recently received an email from a friend who just saw that Dateline piece as it was reran. We had a very lengthy conversation about the one-sided reporting and other factors, one of which you have mentioned here. Alexis

  13. Theresa Alexander Says:

    Thanks for this. It’s really important to disseminate the information. I, too, feel lucky to be here in San Miguel. I have driven across the border many times, the last time being month a go.

    Keep it up!

  14. cynthia Says:

    i cant tell you how much i appreciate this piece! i have stumbled it and put on digg as well as twitter and my facebook page and i hope you dont mind that i also posted a link to it on my own blog page, where i list all the good press i can find . . . thanks so so much Laura!!! You know of what you speak! – cynthia

  15. David Bossman Says:

    Good work, Laura.

    We have to continue to provide a balanced view of Mexico during this “make or break” year. The media in both countries is certainly not helping.

    David Bossman
    Municipal Security Committee

  16. Jennifer Posner Says:

    Bravo Laura! Now if we could just get people to realize what you write is true and experience it for themselves. It would be a shame for a gem like San Miguel to be lost with all the media blitz.

  17. alessia Says:

    dear Laura
    thanks for point out this information. I’m Italian and with my husband we paint fresco in SMA. We absolutely agreed with you and we thanks a lot for the effort to collect and publish this information.
    Warm Regards

  18. Tommy Ashley Says:

    I don’t think so. To say that Mexcio is just like any other place is a stretch. If one can ride into SMA on an airplane and stays there, Maybe. But driving in Mexcio is not safe. One only has to worry about narcos, bandits or the POLICE. The army kills a Father and son last week after they didn’t stop at a check point. Maybe they misinterrepted a siganl. I don’t know but one does not get shot by the army in the USA.
    When Mexico is no longer a failed state. maybe. Not now

  19. Mark Says:

    Good article on the safety of SMA!
    However, you seem to put the blame mostly on Fox News.
    The reality is that NBC is the main culprit, having aired their warped two hour program several times already regarding the Valseca kidnapping. Newswise, I find more “horror stories” regarding the problems in Mexico on CNN than any other network.

  20. Sensationalistic Media and Its Effect on Tranquil San Miguel | Is It Safe To Travel To Mexico? Says:

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  21. joyous heart Says:

    THANK-YOU so much!!! I live here too in SMA. In fact I am in a small village of about 1500 Camposinos(Mexicans that live in a Campo) just a few minutes out of town. I have NEVER felt this safe in my life and I have lived in many small towns in the US.
    I think the pop. here is more than what you stated. I had heard a few years ago EL Centro is 70 thousand and including the Colonias about 150 thous. But I never checked this out.
    I am going to put the link to your blog on my website.Feel free to add mine to yours as well.
    Here’s a link to an article that is very good about the truth of where the violence is in Mexico.

    Muchas Gracias!!! Joyous

  22. heather Says:

    Great article, Laura! Looking forward to visiting casita laurita & SanMiguel this month!