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Column 061404 Thompson

Monday, June 14, 2004


Kidnappings are out of control in Mexico


By Barnard R. Thompson


Mexico’s crime wave continues, with violent kidnappings for ransom, extortion or worse rising to tsunami levels in greater Mexico City.  And while many, in desperate hope for the safe return of kidnapped family members and loved ones meet ransom demands, time and again the victims are found dead, often with clear evidence of torture and abuse before their brutal murders.


No longer a cottage industry targeting the privileged few, today nearly everyone, rich to middle class to those of lesser means, faces the threat of kidnapping by organized gangs or the unorganized.  Kidnapping for ransom demands are tailored to the victims, and if family or friends lag in paying even small amounts they may be sent crudely amputated body parts as a sign of worse to come.


There are “express kidnappings,” with victims carjacked or otherwise driven (often in taxis they foolishly hail on the street as some cabdrivers work in concert with other criminals) from one bank or ATM machine to another until a victim’s credit and cash withdrawal card funds are exhausted.


In recent weeks five more heinous murders of kidnap victims in Mexico City have pushed citizens to unprecedented levels of outrage.  As such, people are protesting the “severe national security problem,” while at the same time demanding not just protection but also for real action to be taken at all levels of government against the steady flood of crime.


A social mobilization is growing, started to a degree via the Internet and electronic mail.  Anticrime groups and organizations are being formed; federal, state and municipal officials are being called to task; stricter laws are supposedly being drafted; and a major march and demonstration against kidnappings and violence is planned for June 27 in Mexico City.


On June 2, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma published an interview with Diego Ricardo Canto, identified as a consultant with Kroll Inc., that touts itself as “the world’s foremost independent risk consulting company.”  One division of Kroll’s victim services is The Kidnap for Ransom Practice, that reportedly deploys “case officers” worldwide to assist clients.


According to Canto, who referred to a Kroll study, in 2003 Mexico ranked number two in Latin America with 3,000 kidnappings, second only to Colombia where 4,000 such crimes were committed.  He added that 50 percent of all kidnappings worldwide are in Latin America.


A representative of the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, José Antonio Ortega Sánchez, said in the same Reforma piece that murders resulting from kidnappings have become commonplace in many areas of Mexico.  On a national basis, Ortega has also said that reported deaths from kidnappings since 1996 total 162, with the annual figures getting progressively larger.


It should be noted that many kidnappings go unreported in Mexico.  According to studies by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, over 90 percent of kidnappings are not reported to authorities due to faithlessness in police and government officials.


The Kroll interview, coupled with other media reports and the growing demands of civil groups, business and professional organizations, government employees, labor unions and the e-mail campaign, seem to have finally gotten the governments’ attention.


President Vicente Fox Quesada has acknowledged the gravity of the crime situation in many areas, saying “we will not wash our hands of this problem.”  Also noting that kidnappings come under the jurisdiction of the states, he has vowed that federal authorities will work with state and local governments to coordinate anti-kidnapping efforts.


As well, the President is calling for legislators to pass reforms to the Criminal Justice Law that are bogged down in an unproductive Congress, including amendments that will make kidnapping a federal crime.


Still, there have also been negative — and maybe oversensitive — reactions to the recent news reports on kidnappings and kidnapping statistics.


José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico’s Deputy Attorney General for Organized Crime, denounced the Kroll statistics as “deceiving and far from reality.”  Santiago said that 2,165 kidnappings were committed between 2000 and 2003.


On June 11, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha announced that a criminal investigation of private security consulting firms, that unlawfully advise families of kidnap victims not to notify police, is underway.


As to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Rasputinesque conspiracy theorist mayor of Mexico City, he has confirmed recent charges by one of his henchmen.  They ludicrously claim that the mobilizations against kidnappings in Mexico City are part of yet another plot against the politically ambitious López Obrador, this time orchestrated by Fox’s National Action Party.