Drug violence impacting security for businesses in Mexico

Security experts discuss how CSOs can mitigate risks in the country

Since 2006, the Mexican government under President Felipe Calderon has been embroiled in a bloody war with drug cartels that operate throughout the country. This has obviously created some additional headaches for security directors whose companies have operations in Mexico, but the violence has recently escalated to the point where it is having a direct impact on businesses.

Earlier this year, SIW reported on a growing number of incidents of cargo crime in the country, as the cartels have sought out other ways to supplement their income. Cargo crime remains a big problem in Mexico, but what was once a relatively safe place for corporations to establish plants and send their executives to hammer out business deals is now anything but.

"One of the concerns that I know companies are facing is a lack of concern from the cartels about collateral damage," said Daniel Johnson, senior chief of ASI Global, a subsidiary of medical and security evacuation firm Medex that specializes in kidnap and ransom response.

While a lot of the violence in the country is targeted, Sam Logan, regional manager of Latin America for risk management services firm iJET, says that there have been several recent incidents that involved the indiscriminant killing of innocent victims.

Last month, gunmen opened fire on buses carrying factory workers in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, killing four people and wounding 15 others. The victims worked in a plant owned by car upholstery maker Eagle Ottawa. A spokeswoman for Eagle Ottawa said the company could not comment about the attack due to an ongoing investigation into the incident.

Mexican authorities may be making some headway in the violence in Ciudad Juarez, however, as they recently announced the arrest of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, leader of Aztecas street gang who claims he is responsible for 80 percent of the murders in the city since August 2009.

"It's not pinpoint precision that they are going after (in attacking) their perceived opposition. They are shooting a busload of people and kind of letting the chips fall where they may," Johnson said. "There used to be, for lack of a better term, a perceived 'immunity' for the Americans that were working down there, which seems to be gone now. They are as much a target of violence or affected by the violence as anyone else."

Despite this incident and others like it, Logan says that they usually don't signal a trend and he doesn't anticipate that most security directors would react strongly to it unless they see an uptick in this type of indiscriminate killing.

According to Mark Hall, vice president of business development for Medex, the country can essentially be cut in half when it comes to the types of threats businesses face, with the north being an epicenter for drug violence and the south being an area where kidnapping and other violent crimes are more prevalent. Hall said that Medex is doing an average of 14,500 operations (secure transportation, executive protection, aircraft guarding, etc.) per year in Mexico alone.

Among some of the most dangerous areas of the country, according to Logan, are in and around Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico, as well as Tijuana, Sonora, Sinaloa, Culiacan, Ciudad Juarez, and Chihuahua City.

Johnson said that the security climate in Mexico has changed dramatically over the past three years.

"There is definitely a more violent turn to the crime we're seeing down there," he said. "Really, I think where it's more acute is in cities like Juarez, but even more so in Monterrey. I think three years ago, Monterrey was about as safe as any U.S. city and the violence that has come like a tidal wave in there borderlines on the obscene."

Logan says that there are three primary risks that CSOs are currently dealing with in Mexico including travel protection for executives and expatriates, safety of Mexican nationals and infiltration of the organization by organized crime.

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