A little over a week ago I booked a spring break vacation to Cancun, Mexico. It took me a while to choose which tropical destination I wanted to visit, and then even longer to decide on a hotel in my country of choice. The only reason I finally came to a decision was because there was only one week left until spring break, and my friends began demanding I make a choice so we could all book it. When I finally did make a choice, everyone was very relieved…for less than 12 hours.
About 12 hours after I booked my trip the US State Department issued a travel alert, on February 20th for citizens traveling to Mexico. It warned that Mexican drug cartels are engaging in violent conflict to control narcotic drug trafficking routes along the U.S. – Mexican border. The alert stated:
“The greatest increase in violence has occurred near the U.S. border. However, U.S. citizens traveling throughout Mexico should exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Mexican and foreign bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country, demonstrating the heightened risk of violence in public places. In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped across Mexico. Many of these cases remain unresolved. While most crime victims are Mexican citizens, the uncertain security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well” (U.S. Department of State)
This security alert triggered the news media to begin an investigation of the severity of the situation in Mexico. The news particularly focused on the situations effect on Spring Breakers. Fox News reported on February 26th:
“Mexico’s drug cartels are waging a bloody fight among themselves for smuggling routes and against government forces, carrying out massacres and dumping beheaded bodies in the streets. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year. Much of the drug violence is happening in border towns, and tourists have generally not been targeted, though there have been killings in the big spring-break resorts of Acapulco and Cancun, well away from the border” (Fox News)
As you can imagine, reading this was very unsettling even if the State Department did stop short of telling Spring Breakers not to go to Mexico but to take “commonsense precautions.” Fox News found that many students are still going to go on their trips-and one of the main reasons went something along the lines of “we’re worried, but we can’t get our money back.” I was upset the government did not issue this alert sooner, as they knew the problem was escalating last year, in 2008, and that over 100,000 high school and college age American students travel to Mexico over spring break.
Now, why did the government, which knew this problem might unfold in the fashion that it has, wait to issue an alert until right before students left for their trips, rather than before they paid for them? Why not tell students that the problem could get worse rather than wait until it got worse and students paid?
The government undeniably claims that the safety of its citizens is it main priority, but it seems in this case economic considerations were more at play. Mexico is a top trading partner for the US. They supply us with a lot of oil while we supply them with tourism. This relationship is important to maintaining the health of our economy. In addition, the effects on the already suffering airline industry would be astronomical if 100,000 students went home for break instead of booking a trip. Thus, the government decided to preserve our economy, but pay due diligence by alerting students after they paid but before they left. Did the government actually think though that students would forfeit $1000 dollars for their trip? No. Even if some crimes are occurring in “popular spring break resorts,” if a trip is nonrefundable the common response for the 20 year old student is undeniably “I’ll be smart. It’s not going to happen to me.” The fact is though, that if the point of spring break for students is to get wasted, and relax, it is kind of hard to constantly think smart and be alert.
Now what the government did will not be recognized as unethical by the news media unless, of course, some innocent students do become victims of these drug cartels. This may not be likely to happen, but it 100% plausible.
My question is this: Did the government act ethically? If you do not believe so, at what point do you think the government (and all organizations) should have to disclose information? Should organizations be required to reveal potential problems, or only actual realized problems?