TUCSON - The U.S. State Department has added the border city of Nogales, Sonora, to its list of locales in Mexico where American travelers should be wary because of increasing violence.
The updated State Department travel alert attributes much of the violence in northern Mexico border cities to fighting among Mexican drug cartels for control of border-area narcotics trafficking routes.
Mexico's government has deployed military troops to the region to try to crack down on the drug organizations.
An American scuba instructor who travels through Sonora with divers every other week said Wednesday that he expects the alert to impact border tourism, with downtown Nogales store owners who cater to border visitors bearing the brunt of a slowdown. But he said he hasn't encountered any problems nor does he expect to.
The alert said Nogales, Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana were among cities that "recently experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues."
It also said U.S. citizens driving along Route 15 between Nogales and Hermosillo, the capital of the northern state of Sonora, have been followed and harassed. Nogales is about 60 miles south of Tucson.
"Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have taken on the characteristics of small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and, on occasion, grenades," the alert said.
It cited firefights in many towns and cities, including Ciudad Juarez, where more than 1,000 people have been killed this year, Tijuana and Chihuahua City.
Alejandro Ramos, a spokesman for the Mexican consulate in Tucson, said there are people living in border communities like Nogales who cross over the border every day.
"I don't see a change in their daily lives," he said. "For the people, it's just what they've been living with. That is not to say that there hasn't been an increase in violence on the part of drug gangs, and criminal activity."
But he said the Mexican government has taken significant action to try to address the violence.
"We should not make people fearful of what is happening, because there are also things that are being done on the Mexican side," Ramos said. "Right now we can't say that that is enough, but for the most part Mexico is still the same place. And it's common to see these kinds of warnings, but we should not take it for more than a warning."
Del Randall, co-owner of the Dive Shop in Tucson, said he's taken groups to such locations as La Paz on the Gulf of California coast for five years, and for years fought fires in Mexico.
"I have never encountered a problem," he said, noting that any city can have bad areas. "There are bad places in Tucson to avoid. I don't see the violence in Nogales being any worse than South Tucson."
But Randall said the travel alert "definitely will affect the shopping down there. It's definitely going to affect the little guy."
Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Brian Levin said it was too soon to see any impact from the travel alert, but that there could be one within a few days.
"Right now we're still seeing about 42,000 or 43,000 people a day coming through Nogales," a normal number for this time of year, Levin said.