The bad news is that kidnappings in Mexico are on the rise. Both Mexicans and foreigners are victims, because in Mexico there are 3 common types of kidnappings. Unfortunately, children are the most targeted group. Second, tourists and middle- or upper-class Mexicans are at risk for "Kidnapping Express," and lastly wealthy Mexican businessmen are also snatched and held for large ransoms.
Children of middle-class or upper-class Mexicans, yet the problem does span all socio-economic levels, are too often stolen away from their families and homes. Kidnappers can work in sophisticated groups, following family members to learn routines or working with the help of hired domestic employees. This is why it is important to carefully screen all residential employees and to avoid flashy displays of wealth in public places.
The Kidnap Express
Kidnapping express is a rapidly growing crime. People are at most risk for this trap when hailing a taxi cab from the street. Once you are inside one of these unauthorized or "pirate" taxi cabs, anything can happen, because no one knows where you are or is held accountable for your whereabouts.
The most likely outcome of the kidnapping express is your credit card or banking account will be emptied. What criminals are most after are your credit cards, cash, jewelry, cellular phones and valuables, in that order. Once they empty your accounts and physically remove your possessions, they will normally release you. One increasingly disturbing spin is that the criminals may contact your family and not release you until a hefty ransom is paid.
Avoid this situation all together by using the authorized taxis lined up at taxi stands throughout the city. Best yet, request a secure taxi over the phone. This way your whereabouts are known by the taxi company. Also, if taking a taxi at night, call a friend to inform them of your whereabouts; also report to your friend the number of the taxi painted on the doors.
Kidnapping for Ransom
Kidnapping for ransom of people believed to be financially affluent (not that many foreigners are targeted) is on the rise. For the most part in Mexico City these gangs are professional and very well-organized. Lately, however, common criminals are also getting into this activity on a large scale.
Kidnapping of the rich and wealthy is a fast-growing crime. It is becoming much more common now in the states of Guerrero and Veracruz, and remains a problem in Mexico City as well. Behind these kidnappings are well-organized criminal gangs. In some cases the culprits are Mexican or international radical groups that obtain obscene amounts of money, in dollars or euros, from this activity.
The wealthy Mexican worried about his protection is normally escorted by private security guards and plans his moves carefully. However, the kidnapping problem is perpetuated because drivers, guards and security personnel are very poorly paid in Mexico. The lack of a living wage for these employees only makes the temptation to be lured in as an accomplish all the more irresistible.
In case of a kidnapping, these are useful numbers:
Mexico City Police (PGJDF): 5346-8669, 5345-5505
Federal Preventative Police (PFP): 5481-4300, 01800-440-3690
All calls are traced. It is against the law to report false alarms.
A Tragic History
Due to a lack of quality police investigations or a trusted police presence, the number of kidnappings taking place in Mexico is showing no sign of decreasing. On the contrary, kidnappings are more frequently ending in tragic circumstances. In one instance a kidnapped girl was murdered, even after her father paid the negotiated ransom. The father alone engaged in a private investigation that led to the arrest of the criminals, as police officials only demonstrated ineptness in this specific case. In another case two kidnapped brothers were also murdered after ransom demands had been met. Private security negotiators collected their fees, despite the horrific circumstances. This case has outraged many people in Mexico.
Drugs and the Increase in Violence
Drugs destined for the United States are no longer making it across the border as successfully as in the past, especially after 9/11. Now, the drugs are remaining in border cities (i.e. Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Matamoros) on a scale never previously seen. As a result narcomenudeo (street drug pushing) is now common in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Hermosillo, Monterrey, and other large cities. The use of drugs by kidnappers is believed to be behind the increasingly violent kidnappings.
Another important factor in this problem is the lack of control of firearms, most of these coming into Mexico illegally from the United States. The combination of drugs and firearms make the kidnapping problem particularly volatile. If we add to this unemployment, economic problems, rivalries among drug cartels and corruption, it becomes apparent that Mexico has a public safety problem growing at an alarming rate.
By Mario Gonzalez-Roman, a retired Foreign Service National Security Advisor to the United States Embassy, currently a private Security Consultant, columnist at www.securitycornermexico.com
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