TUCSON, Ariz. — The Army is tightening restrictions on soldiers stationed at Fort Huachuca who want to travel to Mexico because of rising violence south of the border.
The nearly 7,000 troops based at the southern Arizona post now must receive permission from a top commander before traveling to Mexico, base officials said. Another 11,000 or so family members, civilian staffers and contractors at the fort are “strongly urged” not to visit Mexican cities such as Naco, Agua Prieta and Nogales, a popular shopping, dining and nightlife destination.
The Army can’t legally stop family members and civilian workers from visiting Mexico, but it is warning them not to do so for their own safety, said Tanja Linton, a spokeswoman for Fort Huachuca. The post is about 75 miles southeast of Tucson and less than 20 miles from Mexico.
“We are constantly monitoring this situation in the interest of protecting our people,” Linton said.
Fort Huachuca’s travel restrictions, put in place on Tuesday, are less severe than those at Fort Hood in Texas, where soldiers are banned outright from traveling to numerous Mexican border cities. Travel restrictions are set by installation commanders and vary with local conditions, Linton said.
Drug cartel-fueled violence has reached unprecedented levels this year in the state of Sonora and specifically in Nogales. Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s campaign to weaken the cartels by putting federal and state police along known drug-smuggling routes and trying to snuff out corruption has added fuel to the fire.
Recent bloodshed has landed Nogales on the U.S. State Department’s Mexico travel alert.
One tourism operator in Tucson said the Army’s new travel restrictions likely will add to public fear of travel to Mexico.
“Anytime you’ve got the government and press telling people it’s unsafe, most Americans are going to err on the side of caution,” said Mike Huhn, owner of Desert Divers, which leads scuba-diving and snorkeling excursions to San Carlos, Sonora.
The director of the Sonora Office of Tourism called the Army action worrisome and took exception to the notion that tourists are in danger. The killings are occurring between drug cartels and law enforcement, he said.
“Not one single tourist has had problems in the state of Sonora,” Epifanio Salido Pavlovich said. “And we are going to great efforts to make sure no one is affected.”