Manitoba family stuck in Mazatlan hotel as cartel-fuelled violence flares in streets, closes airports


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Manitoba tourists are shaken up after their Mexico vacations were disrupted this week by a sudden surge in local police presence, airport shutdowns and a travel warning from Ottawa.

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Manitoba tourists are shaken up after their Mexico vacations were disrupted this week by a sudden surge in local police presence, airport shutdowns and a travel warning from Ottawa.

Winnipeg journalist Sheila North was on a boat ride with family members off the shore of Mazatlan when she noticed plumes of smoke on the mainland Thursday.

The grandmother originally from Bunibonibee Cree Nation said she soon noticed black helicopters circling above, but the staff manning the excursion to an island near the resort town did not provide an explanation when she asked what was going on.

“They were trying to keep us calm,” she said.

It was only after the group returned from a day of relaxing, snorkeling and kayaking that they found out — due to messages from worried friends and family in Canada — the cause of all the havoc.

The Canadian government issued an advisory Thursday urging travellers in the western Mexican state of Sinaloa to avoid unnecessary travel and exercise caution, citing “high levels of criminal activity and kidnapping.”

The advisory states widespread violence and security operations — especially in Culiacán, Mazatlan, Los Mochis and Guasave — began Thursday following the arrest of alleged drug trafficker Ovidio (The Mouse) Guzman, son of former cartel boss Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman.

“There are burning cars, exchanges of fire and threat to essential infrastructure, including airports,” it notes.

North said she, her two adult children and her two-year-old grandson have stayed put at their hotel since Thursday evening. It was unsettling to see that staff members were unsure whether it was safe for them to go home after work, she said.

“It’s definitely unnerving, to say the least, because we don’t want anything bad to happen and get caught up in anything,” North said during an interview Friday afternoon, hours after her family had been scheduled to fly home; their cancelled flight has since been rescheduled twice.

“We’re just staying close together and making the most of the situation we’re in.”

A spokesperson for CAA Manitoba indicated it has been reaching out to members who are currently in Mexico to offer help where possible.

“The decision to travel is a personal choice, and travellers should always refer to the latest information and guidance from Global Affairs Canada when deciding to travel,” said Susan Postma, regional vice-president of CAA Manitoba, in a statement.

Terry Roth, a Winnipegger who just arrived in Mazatlan for a three-month stay, said buses stopped running Thursday while airports and many businesses were closed.

The restaurants that remained open were incredibly busy, Roth said, adding he’s been bicycling around town without any safety concerns.

“I 100 per cent feel safe here,” he said, noting he’s staying at an RV park alongside numerous Canadian tourists. “I don’t like it when I see people putting Mexico down, saying it’s a dangerous place because it isn’t — not at all.”

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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