Kidnapping in Mexico
Contributed by Antonio Benavide, Chief of Police, Escobedo Police Department, Nuevo Leon State, Mexico ([email protected]). Contributed articles do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the ÆGIS e-journal.
Kidnapping in Mexico began to grow from background criminal events to the current forefront of criminal activity during the early 1990s. Both the crime itself and the methods appear to have grown out of the activities of Colombian crime organizations, and were exported to Mexico along with the cocaine trade and thousands of “bad guys” who invaded the streets and schools of Mexico in the 1970s. In the 1980s the kidnappings spread throughout South America, where the methods and target selections process were refined and then exported to Mexico.
During the early 90s, political terrorist groups like EPR, EZLN, and others carried out a series of important kidnappings in Mexico. One of the first was the kidnapping of the president of BANAMEX, the most important bank in the country. That was followed by the taking of a Japanese executive at Tijuana B.C. These kidnappings were about money, terrorism, and political change.
Kidnappings today are just about money. They are carried out by criminals who include former police officers, former military personnel, and drug dealers. There are few or no political warriors, just thieves like Daniel “earcutter” Arizmandi, kidnapper of more than 100 people in Mexico City and the surrounding area between 1995 and 1998, when he was captured. The targets are the wealthy, owners of restaurants and jewelry stores, landowners, and ranchers: people who have money, but no bodyguards or armored cars. Currently, Colombia holds first place in the kidnapping and extortion sweepstakes, with Mexico in second place and Brazil coming in third.
In Mexico the issue has become a political one that reaches to the President’s office. In 1998 it resulted in the resignation of a state governor, Carrillo Olea of Morelos, whose chief of police was revealed to have been involved in the murder of hostages by his officers, and whose officers were responsible for most of the state’s 6 kidnappings each day. Following a relentless press campaign and demonstrations on the streets of Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos, President Ernesto Zedillo was forced to call for an investigation, which resulted in the conviction of the chief of police.
Today, the highest crime rate are in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacan, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Morelos, and Mexico City. Most of these states are located in the south, where drug cartels and guerrilla groups operate, and where the situation is compounded by poor police training and systemic corruption.
The most popular method is the “express kidnapping,” in which someone hits your car from behind and waits for the driver to get out to discuss the accident. The driver is then seized and forced to withdraw money via credit card at the nearest ATM.
Another method is to wait for a likely victim near an ATM or cash point, forcing them into a car and demanding money and jewelry. The kidnappers will often claim to be police officers, and produce a fake badge, or pretend to carry out an arrest. Occasionally they are police officers, as was the case in Oaxaca City where four federal officers were prosecuted for kidnapping in November, 1999.
With the growth of the problem, the Federal Government has begun to organize special teams into police departments. The PGR (federal police) and some State Police have proper SWAT teams trained by FBI instructors and Surete personnel from France.
While systematic kidnapping and extortion aimed at foreign corporations is not yet widespread, this does not mean that there is no danger, nor that foreign corporations will not be targeted in the future, nor that a high level of security in this high-risk environment is not called-for. As always, prudence in this regard is well advised.