iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Citing concerns of tainted alcohol being served in Mexico, Sen. Tammy Baldwin is calling on the State Department to reform the way it handles deaths and injuries to Americans vacationing in the country.
Baldwin’s letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — obtained by ABC News — points to reports of tourists fainting or blacking out after drinking only small amounts, and comes just weeks before many Americans travel to Mexico for spring break.
Some tourists have reported being victims of robbery or assault after they passed out, according to the letter. Baldwin, D-Wis., estimates approximately 140 Americans have been involved in possible tainted alcohol incidents, often while staying at Mexico’s upscale, all-inclusive resorts in places like Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta.
The State Department warned American citizens traveling to Mexico last year to be conscious of “allegations that consumption of tainted or substandard alcohol has resulted in illness or blacking out.”
Baldwin writes that the State Department is currently only providing “limited guidance” to American victims of tainted alcohol. She is calling on the State Department to reform the way it operates in Mexico so that consulate staffers can help Americans navigate Mexico’s legal system, rather than letting “them fend for themselves.”
“The State Department must do more to protect and assist our citizens when abroad,” Baldwin writes.
“We are concerned about reported incidents that the consumption of substandard or unregulated alcohol in some tourist areas in Mexico has resulted in illness or blacking out,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News, noting that the State Department has only received 17 reports of Americans who are concerned they may have consumed tainted alcohol.
At the State Department briefing Tuesday, spokesperson Heather Nauert reminded reporters that the U.S. is limited in what they can do in these cases.
“We are not able to prosecute because it is not our country. That’s up to the Mexican government to do,” Nauert said.
“We would like to reiterate that if any U.S. citizen traveler becomes ill and suspects they consumed substandard alcohol in Mexico, they should seek immediate medical attention and contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate,” the State Department spokesperson added.
Baldwin requested that all reports of tainted alcohol be shared with the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which is currently conducting an inquiry into the department’s response to incidents involving Americans and tainted alcohol in Mexico.
A spokesperson for the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General told ABC News that inquiry is ongoing.
The State Department has designated the whole country of Mexico as “travel advisory Level 2,” meaning tourists should “exercise increased caution.”
Just last month, parts of Mexico were designated Level 3 or 4, but that advisory does not include many popular tourist destinations.
Mexico’s secretary of tourism, Enrique de la Madrid Cordero, disputed reports of tainted alcohol in his country during an appearance on CNBC in December. “There is no evidence about tainted alcohol. The case that I’ve seen, where I have medical evidence, gives the evidence that the amount of alcohol that was drunk was excessive,” Cordero said.
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