Drug violence impacting security for businesses in Mexico

Security experts discuss how CSOs can mitigate risks in the country

One method being used by the cartels to divert police attention away from their activities has been the use of so-called narcobloqueos or narco blockades, in which trucks or buses are carjacked for the purpose of blocking street traffic to snarl police or military response. These incidents can have an effect on business continuity, according to Logan, and some businesses are now having to decide if it would be best to allow their employees to work from home. Another issue regarding the safety of Mexican national workers is that many of them have also received threats or have witnessed the violence up close themselves.

"We're not surprised, but it's also a little concerning to find out that some CSOs, especially at smaller companies, haven't really thought about that," Logan said. "I think CSOs are beginning to realize that their own Mexican national employees are at risk and are exposed to some of this activity."

Numbers just released by the Mexican government show that roughly 80 percent of the nearly 30,000 people killed since the crackdown on the cartels began were concentrated in 162 of the nearly 2,400 municipalities that the country has. Logan says this has created a reality versus a perception issue.

"The reality is that a lot this violence, while on one hand it is discriminate, on the other it's concentrated in tight pockets in the country," Logan said. "A lot of people tend to react to the perception quicker than they understand the reality."

That being said, the increased violence has created a culture of fear in some portions of the country.

"The fear is palatable, you can feel it talking to people," Logan said "But at the same time you can go other places... and they're more talking about (the cities) in northern Mexico. For some Mexicans it has changed a lot, for others it has not."

The impact of the cartels can run much deeper, however, as some companies have found their own Mexican operations infiltrated from top-to-bottom with members of organized crime. Once inside, Logan says that these criminals will use their position to contaminate cargo with drugs.

"The infiltration is often a real concern in a city like Matamoros for example, just south of Brownsville (Texas), you have two unions and if you are operating a factory and you have people that you need to hire for your factory floor, you've got to work with one of the two unions," he said. "Both unions are involved with organized crime so there is a concern there that if you don't take the time to do at least a little bit of due diligence on the people that you're hiring, then you could be hiring a criminal to come do work in your factory and who knows what happens after that."

Despite the rise in drug violence, security experts say that companies have not curtailed travel to Mexico. However, they are taking more precautions than before.

"Our clients aren't holding back travel, they are going down but they are enlisting car and driver services and executive protection specialists depending on the person's travel (arrangements)," Hall said. "It used to be that (company officials) would go down to Mexico for one week or two weeks. Now, the travel periods are shorter and they are doing more and more of their meetings in major hotels instead of going from business-to-business."

While there is no empirical data to show whether or not kidnapping is going up or down in Mexico, Johnson said that his company is currently doing more work on kidnappings in the country than "anywhere else in the world." Johnson said that his firm is helping a lot of companies develop crisis management plans to help them react quickly should something happen to their executives while they are in Mexico. Defensive driver training, situational awareness training and secured transport are also a big part of what companies are currently doing to mitigate risks, according to Johnson.

"We are not advising against travel to Mexico right now," Johnson said. "We think there is still good business that is going to happen down there and there are still safe ways to travel, you just need to take significant security precautions. We recommend having accountability throughout your transit, where you are checking in with somebody from your own country or in a call center somewhere to make sure that somebody outside of you and (who you may be traveling with) know where you are at all times."

Hall also stressed the importance of having prearranged transportation in the country to avoid risks.