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For US students, parties drown out Mexico security concerns

April 04, 2010

Thousands of US students downed cheap cocktails and partied at Mexico's beach resorts Tuesday as top US officials took part in talks in Mexico City on spiralling drug violence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took top national security advisers to Mexico for talks on a three-year 1.3-billion-dollar plan to fight organized crime in Mexico, barely a week after three US consulate-linked killings in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, and a string of violent deaths, from Acapulco on the Pacific to the northern economic hub of Monterrey.

The United States and Canada have issued travel warnings that college students avoid border areas during this year's spring break, but students still flocked to Mexico's beach resorts, where the warnings do not apply.

"We thought about the violence before we came, but I feel safe now I'm here," said 21-year-old student Keith, from the University of Colorado, who traveled to Cancun with a friend.

Swimsuit-clad youths grasped plastic cups of beer as they danced throughout the day and night on the white sand beaches of the Caribbean resort and music blared out over the waves.

Tourism workers dismissed news reports on Mexico's gruesome violence, saying business was good, after beaches emptied out at around the same time last year due to both the economic crisis and the outbreak of A(H1N1) flu in Mexico.

"This year we've started well. When there's tourism, there's work for everyone," said Mexican taxi driver Jose Rodriguez.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Mexico dropped by around 1.1 million, to 21.5 million, in 2008, and its tourist income sank to some 11.3 billion dollars, down two billion from the previous year.

But tens of thousands of spring breakers, who travel south of the border from late February to early April, continue to be attracted to Mexico's warm climes, cheap packages and rumours of lax laws.

Cancun, Mexico's most popular resort for foreign visitors, last week recorded occupancy of more than 85 percent in its more than 80,000 rooms, President Felipe Calderon said Monday.

Across the country in Pacific areas around Acapulco, where some 50 people have died in suspected drug attacks in recent weeks, tourists numbers appeared steady for now, according to industry professionals.

Acapulco's tourism promotion agency reported hotel occupancy at 93 percent, as officials pushed an Internet campaign showing security operations to protect tourists.

Drug violence has surged across Mexico since Calderon launched a military crackdown on organized crime when he took office at the end of 2006.

More than 15,000 people have died in suspected drug attacks since then, mainly in score-settling between gang members on trafficking routes, sparking fears north of the border that Mexico is practically at war.

"I wasn't afraid, but Niki and Alex, my friends, were afraid they'd be robbed or kidnapped," said 21-year-old Gina, a biology student at the University of Illinois.

"But now they're happy. We're going out in bars and clubs at night and there's no problem."

Many hotels welcome the notoriously rowdy crowds for their part in maintaining Mexico's role as one of the world's top tourist destinations.

"I love Cancun, yes definitively I will come back," said 26-year-old British doctor Mark, as he smoked a joint, which is illegal in Mexico, and partied with US students on the beach in Cancun.

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