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This is the unedited, uncorrected transcript of
the television show ABC 20/20 "South of the
Border -- The Dangers of Traveling in Mexico.
" This was Part 1 which aired April
HUGH DOWNS, ABC NEWS We're about to tell you
some surprising and hair—raising stories about
what has happened to Americans traveling south
of the border. Mexico is a favorite vacation
destination from this country and for good
reason. But why doesn't anybody warn you about
the dangers you face there? Americans have been
raped, robbed and murdered even while on
vacation. Now, we know that crime is a reality
for American tourists in many places. But
recently, things have become a lot worse in
Mexico. And tonight, Elizabeth Vargas launches
the first part of her report on the dangers
facing unsuspecting American tourists south of
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS (VO) The white
sands and blue waters of Mexico entice millions
of Americans every year. Its beautiful beaches
and warm weather are close, and vacations there
are relatively inexpensive. For Stephanie Naess,
a trip to Mexico City held the added attraction
of meeting her boyfriend Paul's relatives.
STEPHANIE NAESS, TAXICAB CRIME VICTIM It was
three days of just fun. Went hiking up the
pyramids and met his whole family, and the food
and the colors, and it was amazing.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) But Stephanie had no
idea how easy it was to become a victim of crime
in Mexico—until she and Paul did something
most Americans do without thinking. They hailed
STEPHANIE NAESS We sat back. We were sort of
talking about the evening. And all of a sudden,
he stopped at a stop sign, and he unlocked the
door. And right then, these two guys jumped into
the cab. These people were holding knives. And
they were very panicked. They were like,
"don't"—you know, "Close your
eyes, put your head down, don't move. Don't
move, don't move!"
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) The goal was robbery.
The couple was quickly stripped of their credit
cards, cash and jewelry. But the abduction
STEPHANIE NAESS And that is where my red
panic light just went on, like, OK, it's been
about 15 minutes. Why are they not letting us
out of the car? I mean, as a woman, it crosses
your mind, "Am I going to be raped? Are
they going to lock me up?" And it's a
horrible feeling when someone else is in total
control, and there's just nothing you can do.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) The terror
lasted 40 minutes, until robbers finally
released the couple unharmed, but in a bad
neighborhood with no money to get home. What
happened to Stephanie and her boyfriend is not
unusual. A 20/20 investigation reveals an
alarming number of Americans are being attacked
in taxies, on buses, some even on the beach. Yet
most visitors to Mexico know nothing about the
crimes there or how to protect themselves. (VO)
Frannie Ruch was robbed in a taxi last October.
FRANNIE RUCH, TAXICAB CRIME VICTIM Two young
guys jumped in in their black leather jackets.
They were on our laps, and my friend is
screaming. And they have knives. They were
little knives, and they were—with their hands
on our mouths. And they wanted our PIN numbers.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) They wanted your
FRANNIE RUCH They wanted our ATM card number.
"PIN, PIN, PIN." That's what they kept
saying. I mean, I have kindergarten Spanish. My
friend had none.
ELIZABETH VARGAS Before you left, did your
travel agents, anybody helping you make your
travel arrangements—did anybody warn you about
not getting into cabs in certain places or at
STEPHANIE NAESS No.
ELIZABETH VARGAS Never heard anything about
STEPHANIE NAESS I never did. Never did.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) What Stephanie and
Frannie didn't know is that Mexico is in the
midst of a massive crime wave brought on by a
severe economic crisis. These are not the
pictures you'll see in the travel brochures, but
this is reality in Mexico these days. Local news
cameras last year watched armed bandits work in
the open, using their guns to stop cars so they
could rob the passengers. On another street, a
team of muggers operates with apparent impunity,
leaving a man unconscious in broad daylight.
Just 15 minutes later, the same group attacks
another victim, and during it all, a police
officer stands just a few yards away. In fact,
widespread police corruption is a big part of
the problem here, according to criminologist
Rafael Ruiz (ph). (on camera) You don't know,
when you're talking to a police officer, if he's
clean or if he's a crook?
RAFAEL RUIZ, CRIMINOLOGIST Well, it is my bet
that he is not clean.
ELIZABETH VARGAS You bet he's a crook?
RAFAEL RUIZ It is not only my bet, it is the
bet of the whole population.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Mexicans might know to
be wary of men in uniform, but tourists Terry
Mamalis and David Forsberg had no idea. They
flew into Mexico City two years ago on a
low—cost, late—night flight. Their plan was
to catch the first bus out to the countryside in
DAVID FORSBERG, CRIME VICTIM We didn't even
leave the airport.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) The trouble started
when the men wandered outside the terminal. They
say a van pulled up, and men wearing police
uniforms got out and started yelling at them.
DAVID FORSBERG We're looking for the bus
terminal, and we're pointing our fingers asking
where it was. And that's when they proceeded to
push us towards the Suburban.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) What did they
do? Put their arms around you and lead you?
TERRY MAMALIS, CRIME VICTIM Yeah, that's
exactly what they did to him.
DAVID FORSBERG Exactly. They just put their
arms right around my back and started pushing me
TERRY MAMALIS I was screaming and, you know,
"What's going on?" I got hit in the
back of the head with a billy club.
ELIZABETH VARGAS And they overpowered you,
they hit you with the billy club and forced you
into the Suburban?
DAVID FORSBERG Yes.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) For more than two
hours, the men say they were driven around,
blindfolded, gagged and forced to endure
repeated beatings by five men in police uniforms
who seemed to be enjoying themselves.
DAVID FORSBERG You could hear what they were
saying, you know, a lot of laughter, a lot of
craziness. At one point, they took my bank card
out, and they were shoving it in my face. And
I'd say "OK. OK, I'll give you money. I'll
give you money." And that's when I would
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) How many times
do you think you were beaten?
TERRY MAMALIS I'd say over 50 times.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Eventually the men say
they were thrown out of the van in a rundown
neighborhood, still bound and now bleeding with
only the clothes on their backs. Everything else
had been stolen. (on camera) In the past several
years, and increasing number of Americans south
of the border have been mugged, kidnapped,
carjacked and worse. In Mexico, the capital city
is by far the most dangerous destination. Police
statistics published in a local newspaper report
that in January, an average of two Americans
were attacked here every day. (VO) In December,
American businessman Peter Zarate was killed in
a taxi robbery. And just last week, Texas
Monthly magazine writer Jan Reid (ph) was shot
and critically wounded. The US State Department
considers the situation in Mexico City so
serious it has issued a stern public
announcement warning travelers never to hail
taxies on the street. But when we showed that
warning to dozens of American passengers at the
Mexico City airport, only a few knew anything
1ST TOURIST I'm concerned at this very
2ND TOURIST I think we should have been
3RD TOURIST I do, too. Our travel agent
should have said something, I would think.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) But how many travel
agents actually tell clients about dangers that
might make them cancel their plans? (on camera)
I'd like to get some information, please, on a
trip to Mexico that I might be planning. (VO) We
talked to 25 travel agents around the country,
and only four warned us about taxi robberies. No
one said anything about corrupt police. (on
camera) Now, it's perfectly safe there? In all
parts of the city? OK. (VO) Steve Louckes is the
communications director for the American Society
of Travel Agents, which he says represents about
half the travel agents in the US (on camera)
Shouldn't travel agents be telling their
customers not to get into taxi cabs in Mexico
City, the largest city in the world?
STEVE LOUCKES, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF TRAVEL
AGENTS Certainly, if they were aware, yes.
ELIZABETH VARGAS And you're saying it's
entirely conceivable that they're not aware of
STEVE LOUCKES It's entirely conceivable that
they're not aware of every single thing, any
type of event that is maybe endangering
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) But here's what the US
government has to say about 1998's top spring
STATE DEPARTMENT INFORMATION LINE
"Travelers should totally avoid hailing
Volkswagen Bug taxies and other cabs on the
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) This is a recording on
the information line at the State Department in
Washington. Anyone can call this line, and
travel agents have access to all this
information in their computers.
STATE DEPARTMENT INFORMATION LINE Americans
are advised to be careful when ordering
beverages in local nightclubs and bars. Some
establishments may contaminate or drug the
drink. Americans should be cautious in using ATM
cards and machines. Users are frequently
targeted by criminals who have beaten victims to
discover PIN numbers and then held victims until
the next day to again use the card.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) On and on, the
recording of what's called a "consular
information sheet" describes dangers even
safety—conscious Americans probably wouldn't
know. For instance, luxury buses, like the one
many tourists take to go from
Mexico City to Acapulco, are frequently robbed.
And driving anywhere at night is strongly
discouraged. And in some places, even
daytime travel is dangerous.
STATE DEPARTMENT INFORMATION LINE Highway 15 and
Express Highway 1 in the state of Sinaloa are
dangerous, where criminal assaults and murders
have occurred day and night.
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) We'd like to go
travel down the coast visiting all the different
beach communities, is that
possible to do? (VO) Even when we pressed,
asking about nighttime driving in areas
specifically listed as extremely dangerous,
most of the travel agents we spoke to said
nothing about the warnings. (on camera) Nothing
anywhere? It's perfectly safe as far
as you know?
STEVE LOUCKES Keep in mind that there are more
than 150 different countries around the globe.
The average travel agent is
not going to know every single consular
information sheet that the State Department has.
ELIZABETH VARGAS Where is Mexico on the list of
most popular destinations?
STEVE LOUCKES Mexico is in the top five.
ELIZABETH VARGAS So shouldn't they know about
STEVE LOUCKES They should know about the
particular destinations that are most popular
ELIZABETH VARGAS Shouldn't they know that the
State Department warns you shouldn't be
traveling on the highways in
Mexico at night?
STEVE LOUCKES Not necessarily.
ELIZABETH VARGAS Why not?
STEVE LOUCKES Because the destinations in Mexico
that most people travel to are destinations that
are deemed relatively
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) Indeed, American tourists
who go to Cancun and other popular beach resorts
are not often
victimized. But veering off the beaten tourist
path even a little bit can be extremely
dangerous. Carol Schlosberg was raped and
murdered last month on a beach just outside the
resort of Puerto Escondido.
LINDA BAZIN, CAROL SCHLOSBERG'S SISTER She was
most likely attacked, maybe put up a fight. Some
people say they
saw a man and woman fighting. We believe she was
unconscious when she was carried or dragged into
the water where she
ELIZABETH VARGAS (VO) It was Carol's passion for
vintage motorcycles that brought her to Mexico
with her new love, Tim
Cordz (ph). The couple had on a two—month
motorcycle adventure when they decided to stay a
few days at the Papaya Surf
Bungalows. Tim stayed to work on the bike, while
Carol went for a walk on the beach shortly after
noon. It was one of her
favorite things to do. Carol's
brother—in—law, Jim Bazin, believes Carol
was attacked because she walked alone.
JIM BAZIN, CAROL SCHLOSBERG'S BROTHER—IN—LAW
Mexican women will never travel anywhere by
They always go with a companion—another woman,
a friend or whatever. They know better than to
do that because these things
ELIZABETH VARGAS (on camera) Do you know whether
or not when Carol and Tim went to Mexico, were
they at all aware
of any of the dangers of traveling to that
JIM BAZIN Did Carol or Tim ever think that
taking a stroll at noon on an extremely popular
tourist beach, where the Mexicans
take their holidays, where their families have
picnics, did they ever think that taking a
stroll on this beach would end up in an
attack, sexual violation and then an intentional
drowning? Of course not.
STEVE LOUCKES You, as a traveler, have a
responsibility to protect yourself. You should
try to gather as much information as
you possibly can. And it's as simple as just
saying to your travel agent, "What
information can you provide me that the State
Department provides you about Mexico?"
HUGH DOWNS But bad things can happen even to
tourists who carefully inform themselves of the
dangers they face south of
the board. Friday, Elizabeth Vargas will be back
with the second part of her report. (VO) What
happens when you do become the
victim of a crime like what happened on this
road in Guatemala? Most of us expect the
American embassy to come riding to the
rescue. But listen to what happened after this
woman was shot by bandits and her father went
looking for help.
ELIZABETH VARGAS So you called the consulate at
VICTIM'S FATHER It would have been around 10:30.
ELIZABETH VARGAS Ten thirty at night, and they
told you to come back tomorrow morning?
VICTIM'S FATHER Yes, that was the outcome of it.
HUGH DOWNS (VO) Don't expect much help if you do
get into trouble. And why doesn't the US
government do more to keep
you out of harm's way. (on camera) Well, Friday,
we continue our 20/20 investigation. A report
that no tourists should miss.
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