Why is Manzanillo and the state of Colima
the safest in Mexico?

by Susan Dearing

There is  no reason to be afraid to come to Manzanillo, or to Mexico, for that matter.

Culturally, Mexicans and Canadians/Americans look at many things differently. (Forgive me, my Canadian friends; I am not lumping you into the American group, but we do share some of the same concerns about safety.)


Please click on photos to enlarge

For Mexicans, having a strong police presence makes them feel safer. For foreigners, it makes us nervous seeing police on every street corner, watching them driving around in cars with lights flashing, on motorcycles making traffic stops, and in big black and white Dodge Ram trucks with tough-looking men in bullet-proof vests holding assault rifles. 

When driving around the country, we see the military presence at improvised road blocks, and powering around in huge military vehicles visibly "armed and dangerous."

"If Manzanillo is so safe," foreigners ask, "Why are there so many police?" Manzanillo government has doubled the police force, as has the state. The cops are everywhere. It is assumed by our elected officials that a strong police presence will serve as a deterrent. But for some, it makes us more paranoid seeing all those gun-totin' men in uniform. Our Manzanillo government has a different way of looking at things, and elections are in July. 

The extreme police presence is designed to make Mexican national tourists, as well as our local Mexican citizens feel safer. Unfortunately for some foreigners, it scares them into thinking that Manzanillo is a war zone. Quite the opposite, and as you read on, perhaps I'll be able to dispel some common myths.

My first trip to Mexico was in 1970 in a '70 Chevy El Camino. It was a 2-week trip that took me clear to Mexico City and back to the Chicago suburbs. My husband (now, put an "ex" in front of it) and I had a blast! Did we worry about safety? Back in the 70's it was hippies and blue jeans and freedom of expression. Flower power and adventure. Mexico was a country to be explored--an experience--with nothing familiar, not even the language. Especially the language! In Mexico, I felt like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole and finding herself in Wonderland!

Did anything bad happen? Not once. Well, we got lost repeatedly--maps of the country were sadly lacking back then, as were directional signs. With my totally worthless Spanish/English translation book, I asked questions, but never understood the answers. Ice was a necessity, but the only way you could get it was to spot an ice truck and follow it. We would hold out pesos in our hand, and the driver would take what he needed and break up a block of ice for us to put in our cooler. 

When we came into a small town, we offered cokes and ice to its inhabitants--mostly kids, but some adults, who gathered around the El Camino like it was a space craft, and for them, I suppose it was. I spent lots of time taking their pictures with a Polaroid instant camera and giving the pictures away. The way Mexico used to be: Old adobe-over-hand-made brick, wooden doors, sod roof.

Many wonderful memories like these made me move to Mexico. From the first time in 1970 to 2009--almost 40 years--my personal safety has never been a concern. In fact, in 1982 the issue became: "How can I move to Mexico and make a living?" With each vacation to Mexico, the love affair with this beautiful country became more passionate, until I was consumed with desire to make the "off-again, on-again" relationship permanent.

My 5-year plan to move to Mexico took me first to live in Puerto Vallarta. Though there weren't any safety concerns for me personally, there were some serious corruption issues, and I found it impossible to do business there.

High rates of crime are often the result of corrupt police and the judiciary who make little effort to catch criminals or prevent crimes. In my experience trying to do business in Puerto Vallarta in the years 1987-90, everyone was asking for a bribe (and getting one--at least from me). Taking a bribe was an acceptable standard of behavior by officials and others back then. In some areas of Mexico, dishonest individuals work in law enforcement for low salaries because they can expect to supplement their income generously through bribes. It's no surprise then, that police in many Mexican cities are paid very badly since there is no problem attracting enough (corrupt) candidates to accept police work at low pay, knowing that collecting a "mordida," or bribe, will raise their standard of living to an acceptable level.

Corruption in law enforcement encourages corruption in the enforcement of contracts and regulations. International evidence on corruption of officials in different countries indicates that high crime and high corruption levels tend to go together.

What about corruption in Manzanillo and Colima? True, there is a "good ol' boys club" of the old families of the area, but mostly, it is all about politics, and if you're a foreigner, none of it matters to you. Living here as a retiree, or visiting as a tourist, you'll never see it or be exposed to it. A policeman in Manzanillo, most likely the only government employee you'll notice, is paid 3 times the Mexican national average cop's salary, and orders are out that they will be fired if they take bribes. That doesn't mean the occasional new cop on the block won't try, but you probably won't see him a few months from now because word will get back to his superiors. 

Photos, right: New Security Complex and new Police Station

In Manzanillo, we have a number you can call to anonymously report a crime, or a corrupt police officer: 089 from any land line. You can report child abuse, espousal abuse, drug dealing, drug or alcohol abuse, theft, or even a belief that something is amiss. The response time in most cases is under 5 minutes. If you want to report a policeman for accepting a bribe, you will need to record his name, badge number, and license plate number of the patrol car or motorcycle. If you need help for any reason, such as you can't speak Spanish, call Roberto Soberano on his cell 044-314-353-2059. Roberto is the "Guardian Angel" of Manzanillo, officially working for a local radio station, and he will look out for you. A cell phone is a very good investment, and if you find you travel through various towns a lot, it is good to have a business card from various lawyers in an address book, like I do, and be ready to call in the event of a dishonest cop, or an even bigger problem.

What about accidents? Here in Colima, you will not go to jail, despite what is out there on the internet. The police, will, however, impound both vehicles, and keep them until you and the other driver, and your insurance companies sort everything out. You will not get your car back until both drivers have reached an agreement. This is one reason it is important to have insurance. An attorney, or at least a spokesmen for a car rental or insurance agency is available to translate for you. Once again, someone like Roberto will come to the scene and help you out, and it would be most gracious of you to pay him for his time. This is not a bribe, this is acceptable behavior (see article on "Tipping Etiquette"), whether you have Roberto or anyone else, such as an attorney taking your side. Attorneys, you may be assured will charge for their time.

Still, studies suggest that on the whole, corruption retards economic growth by discouraging investments in physical capital, and perhaps also in human capital, because corrupt officials do not enforce contracts and regulations honestly, and the returns to hard work and investments generally are lower. 

The foreign investment capital that is crucial to economic development is particularly discouraged because foreigners often perceive--usually accurately--that contracts and regulations tend to be interpreted in favor of domestic businesses and against foreign ones.

Production and distribution of drugs also flourish in environments with corrupt police and judges. What is worse, drug activities tend to corrupt officials and police, and hence weaken enforcement of other laws as well. Such an environment is hardly conducive to the creation of legitimate business and investments. The potential profits from the drug trade is sometimes so large--especially when trans-shipment of drugs to the United States and other major markets is feasible---that even the top leaders of some countries have been heavily involved in the distribution of drugs. This is what is happening in Mexico's border cities.

8 years for "date rape" of a 13-year-old girl


Another factor contributing to the safety story is that Manzanillo and Colima judges are tough on crime. In the last 2 months the newspapers have carried these stories: 

Juan Manuel Sanchez Mejia: sentenced to 25 years for sexual assault of a minor (under 18 years of age). Jose Alfredo Salas Hernandez, 8 years for stealing a disconnected cylinder of gas from a taco stand while inebriated. Jose Antonio Diaz Fuentes, 25 years for the offense of rape and sexual abuse of a minor. Victor Ramar Virgin Castillo, 5 years for grand theft auto.

According to the judge, these felons "lacked fundamental society values, and no one in our state of Colima can commit this kind of crime with impunity."

25 years for aggravated rape of a minor, so sentenced, according to the judge, because he lacked sufficient society values

Convicted of rape of a minor, a non-consensual "date rape" type of situation

Selling marijuana on a street corner carries a penalty of up to 25 years.

The judge gave him 5 years. After being in Manzanillo for 15 days, he decided to drink some beer and steal a Nissan truck

Most of those arrested and convicted come from another state. All were incarcerated for a minimum of 2 years prior to trial. (In Mexico, there is no bonding out, no bail, no early parole.) Almost all offenders confess to their crimes. (How the police get them to do that is another story!)

With the issue of domestic violence, when the police are called for any reason, the abusive spouse goes to jail. Photos are taken of drug users, drug dealers with their wares, thieves and the stolen property, and wife beaters, and appear in the two daily papers.

According to a local official, police realized a long time ago that enforcement in and of itself was not enough. "What we've seen over the past year is a significant development in relations with people throughout Manzanillo," she said. "People are feeling safer and more comfortable and as a result are picking up the phone and speaking to police."

"Whether citizens realize it or not, we have a group of law enforcement officers in the cities and at the state level who work together. Most of our crime gets solved, especially violent crime," the official said.


It is not a good idea to consume a lot of beer and run out of money to buy more; then in an inebriated state steal a tank of gas from a taco stand and try to sell it for more beer money. He has 8 years sober to think about it.

The headline says,
"Another rapist behind bars"! This convicted felon received 25 years for aggravated rape. 

This 18-year-old stole a camera out of a truck. He can expect a 5-year sentence.


A recent survey names Colima and Manzanillo as having the best quality of life in the entire country of Mexico. 

Included in that survey were important needs like the quality of health and medical services, housing opportunities, educational institutions and high quality teachers, public services, public transportation, climate and atmospheric conditions, public security/safety, parks or green areas for public use, activities and cultural centers, activities and entertainment centers, air quality, urban infrastructure, and government protocol (getting things done). 

In every category, Colima and Manzanillo rated well above the median average, and #1 in most. Though there are still some areas of Manzanillo and the state that are "poor," anyone looking to better themselves is given an opportunity in many ways. 

Scholarships and grants are offered by the government and through private not-for-profit organizations, dozens of charity events are held each year to benefit children and animals, and families are reaching out to their less fortunate next door neighbors to give help, especially during times of a catastrophe. 

For example, 3 years ago, numerous homes along the banks of the Salahua River flooded, some having been inundated with more than 6 feet of water and mud. Families lost everything. Some needed medical care. Others needed help cleaning out their homes. As the flood waters rose and people fled their homes, there was no need for security. 

Thieves weren't lurking to pounce on the left-behind TV set or stereo. The entire community banded as one--collecting everything from clothes, to mattresses, to sheets and towels, and went door-to-door checking on everyone and passing out much needed items. 

Those who needed medical care were transported to hospitals. Those who needed a place to stay were sheltered by neighbors, while other neighbors shoveled up mud, washed what was left of their clothes, and salvaged everything they could. It was a community working together.

With the arrival each year of hurricane season, up to 15 shelters are automatically opened and made available to families in low-lying areas. Though hurricanes routinely pass Manzanillo by, the government is always in a state of preparedness for the remote possibility of a head-on strike.

Because Manzanillo is the largest port in Mexico, it has the latest, most up-to-date equipment for watching and tracking every hurricane born in the Pacific.

Two new sports complexes offer adults and children a safe and secure place for extracurricular activities. Diverse events, such as fairs, give families a chance to pursue other outdoor activities. Planned parks and recreational facilities, such as Los Amiales are everywhere throughout the state of Colima.

"Poor" is a state of mind. What some deem as poor, others might find unnecessary. Twenty-one years ago, I couldn't imagine life without a dishwasher. Now, I can 't imagine needing one. In photo, left, is this family poor? What more do you need than a few chickens, plants in 5 gal. buckets, and a hammock for your afternoon siesta?

Manzanillo has the highest level of education in all of Mexico, and more youths finish through grade 15 than anywhere else in the country. A better education offers improved job opportunities. We have a college of international business, we have satellites of the university of Colima, with the best cultural program in all of Mexico. New Cultural Arts Institute in photo, right.

There is almost zero percent unemployment. Anyone wanting a job can get work. Wages, though still low, are much higher than other states in Mexico. Many derogatory comments are made about Wal-Mart, Burger King and other American franchises, but they offer a benefit package that keeps their workers loyal, including health care and the ability to borrow money to purchase a house. The majority of women working at these large stores are single mothers, and their steady income and the social security benefits allow them to be independent and have a real home for their family.

New Coca Cola
bottling & distribution plant

DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) helps families

New hospital offering
free vasectomies

Building boom with new
construction everywhere

New school of
international business

Most people who live here on a full time basis come to realize that Mexico is a cash economy, and that many small establishments operate "under the table," running a small business out of their home, selling trinkets on the beach, or washing car windows on the street corner, to name just a few. Manzanillo government doesn't see any of this money, however, but they do get 3% of the port business (the state gets 9%) and the rest is for the federal government), but the port does provide jobs of every type. The iron mine employs several thousand, and provides housing for its workers. The ugly, belching power plant, has a whole town built next to it for its employees, and the degasification facility and the new port for bringing in liquefied natural gas will up the standard of living even more. As for other job opportunities, the new home construction field is booming, the Coca Cola plant employs 400 workers, and there are farms growing produce, a lime juice processing plant, the salt industry, and of course, tourism.



Renovated central Jardin in downtown Manzanillo is a beautiful area to take part in many relaxing activities.

Young girl celebrates her 10th
birthday. Waiting patiently for
11 hours while her mother helps
 out at Manzanillo's new no kill
animal shelter, she finally gets
to enjoy her birthday cake.

Sundays are special days
in Manzanillo and Colima
where families
get to enjoy the outdoors,
in this case Los Amiales River
near Coquilmatlan.

Amazingly, with a population of almost 138,000, Manzanillo has a volunteer fire department. One fire truck and one ambulance have been donated by Manzanillo's Sister City St. Paul, Minnesota.

No one needs to go hungry when there's seafood ready for the taking and fruit on the trees.

The social structure of Manzanillo and the state of Colima mirrors to citizens and communities what is valued and what are priorities. Social root causes of crime are the feeling of inequality, e.g., rich vs. poor instead of rich helping poor, the lack of support to families and neighborhoods, lack of leadership in communities, inaccessibility to services, and a low value placed on children and individual well-being.

Los Angelito's Casa Hogar
at Christmas with Santa

There are many different programs and support groups in our area, most being supplemented by private donations.

FEEC (Fondo Escolar Enrique Corey) offers scholarships to underprivileged children. As long as the child remains in school, all expenses will be paid. A dinner/dance is held every January to raise funds for this program.

MESE offers a safe house for street children, and a program for single mothers to learn skills, such as hairdressing or sewing, so she can work out of the home, and be with her toddlers. Teachers, social workers and many volunteers help this program. You can sponsor a child for $250/year, and/or buy presents for the children at Christmas.

Embroidered dresses made by Las Caritas single moms

The Santiago Foundation trains and educates unskilled workers for jobs.

Casa Hogar para Los Menores Liborio Espinosa is a foster home/orphanage for children run by the catholic church.

Los Angelito's is a foster home/orphanage in Salagua funded by private donations.

Project Amigo, sponsored by the Rotary Club, is for training and teaching parents how to make a home for their children, as well as sponsoring a college endowment fund.

Las Caritas, is an excellent program operated by the catholic church, where single mothers can work out of their home sewing or embroidering, and are paid per piece they make.

There are many other charitable and help groups in Manzanillo: Manzamigos, Christmas for the Children, DIF (government help organization for families), a home for the aged, numerous drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, ARA (spaying and neutering pets at low or no cost), PATA (spaying and neutering pets at yearly clinics), UAM (animal shelter, sterilization and medical care of street animals).

The state of Colima has its own programs, and most small towns have individual help centers for various situations and problems.

National Health Week
sign on DIF building
Free polio vaccinations & free check-ups for respiratory
illness such as swine flu

What all this means is that members of Colima's communities who live and work here, whether it's year-round or just the winter months, band together to give help--monetarily and otherwise--to better the community by contributing to raising healthy, responsible members of society. The task of putting children first goes well beyond the family to include the entire community. By easing the social problems, such as lack of financial resources, lack of educational opportunities, lack of meaningful employment options, poor housing, lack of hope and the prejudice against persons living in poverty, it betters the living conditions of everyone within a community, as well as state-wide.

"Manzanillo people are very proactive, very aware of their surroundings," says a woman out campaigning for her political party. "You can see it in every neighborhood, how neighbors help neighbors, and the other ways they stay involved.

Local artists, both foreign and domestic, donate paintings and/or a portion of proceeds from sale of paintings
to charity causes

Carnivals, circuses and other fiestas, such as fairs, both state and local provide entertainment for families

"If they see something that isn't right, such as a possible drug deal, or spousal abuse, they are more apt to contact an appropriate agency. It isn't an official 'Neighborhood Watch' program, but it is neighbors watching," the lifetime resident of Manzanillo said.

"The people are deciding to get involved. They are not going to tolerate drug activity, and most people know what different help programs are available, and where to go to get someone to help." she said.

When reading the police page in the local papers, in most situations where a crime has been committed and the perpetrator has been caught, drug and alcohol abuse is evident. In most abuse cases, drugs and alcohol are involved as well. All of the area help programs emphasize a strong moral education, both formal and informal, teaching skills that can be used to earn money, and giving a hand, not a hand-out.

Two new sports complexes
allow games such as American football, volleyball, basketball, and, of co
urse, soccer.

New dock as well as two new tug boats promises more cruise ship business to the port

Tourism is the third most important economic activity in Mexico, representing 8.3 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country currently ranks 8th in the number of international visitors and 10th in international tourism revenues, according to the World Tourism Organization (WTO)

Just a few months ago, American travel to Mexico was booming. Despite the economic downturn in the U.S., Mexico reported a 14% increase in visitors in January over the previous year, spurred by a strong U.S. dollar against the Mexican peso and a wave of American tourists who wanted to stay close to home. Eighty million Americans visited Mexico last year alone, according to the Mexico Tourism Board, making tourism a $13.2 billion industry, and Mexico's third-highest revenue stream.

Newly renovated downtown boardwalk is a joy for locals
and visitors

Wildlife is protected to a great extent. This tame deer is free to come and go from the restaurant
El Caminero to the forest and creek behind.

Ostrich enjoys having
company at a restaurant
on a farm, called
Don Andres

The entrance to the Naval base, home to the Pacific Fleet, in the Las Brisas area of Manzanillo.
The army also has a base in the Hotel Zone.

A memorial in bronze to the Mexican Navy sailors,
featured at the central
in downtown Manzanillo

Men and women are hired
by the city government
to keep their neighborhood
parks, playgrounds and
jardins clean.

As an American living and working in Manzanillo for the past 18 years, we are only behind the U.S. in a few things, such as salaries (minimum wage $5/day (though most people earn more than that here in Colima), and ecological awareness. We are equal or better in many areas: education, infrastructure, medical facilities. That is not to say that there are not poor or primitive areas here in Mexico, but there are also ghettos and slums in the U.S.

Cattle, goats, burrows and other animals are a common sight on many roads leaving the city.

Mexican Navy training ship dock in
downtown Manzanillo. Tours are also
offered during Mexican holidays.

Getting around is easy by bicycle
from the port on to downtown with wide sidewalks lined with sculpted topiaries.

More than 10,000 mangrove seedlings are being grown in Cuyutlan for reforestation around the port.

Many foreigners expect every country to emulate their standards, but who's to say these standards are better? Remember, Mexico is Latin AMERICA, and the term "America" doesn't just apply to the United States. The state of Colima is high in education, low in crime, rich in culture, strong in industry, and has an unemployment rate of almost 0. The differences between Mexico and the U.S. are what brought me here and the reason I plan to stay.

The iron mine and pelletizing plant
is one of the largest industries in the state.

Crude ore is refined into iron
pellets, then shipped by rail, truck
or ship to its destination.

Sportfishing is a popular tourist
activity, and the city is known as the "Sailfish Capital of the World."

View of the city of
Manzanillo, the largest port
in Mexico--and the safest.


It is great that there is an alcohol and drug treatment center even in small towns, because alcoholism or any form of drug addiction are not limited to urban centers.

Having a drug addicted friend or family member makes it necessary to Learn how to help a drug addict before it's too late.