Accessibility links

Soaring Crime in Mexico Leaves Citizens Feeling Vulnerable; Stymies Economy - 2002-09-20

Terrorism of a different sort is plaguing Mexico. The country is second only to Colombia as the worst place in the world for kidnapping. Many victims and civic groups are questioning the effectiveness of government efforts aimed at stopping the crime.

As crime reaches yet higher levels in this crime-plagued nation, citizens' groups are demanding that the government of President Vicente Fox do more. Kidnapping, in particular, has become a scourge that affects young and old, rich and poor.

On Thursday, parents of abducted children staged a protest in front of the federal Attorney General's office demanding that a special task force be created to investigate cases of child abduction.

Also on Thursday, a prominent business group called COPARMEX questioned figures provided by President Fox that show success in the fight against kidnapping. Jose Antonio Ortega, head of the organization's security council, said there is little indication that the government is winning the war against kidnapping gangs.

He said the president's assertion that 100 percent of kidnap victims had been released as a result of federal operations fails to differentiate between cases in which police agents rescued victims and cases in which kidnappers released the victims after family members paid a ransom. He said he knows of only 35 cases in which police rescued kidnap victims.

In his annual state-of-the-nation speech on September 1, President Fox said that in the past year federal agents had solved 133 kidnapping cases, resulting in the safe release of 100 percent of the victims.

Mr. Fox, however, also indicated that his government is trying to do more to address the problem of kidnapping and crime in general. He said the government is training more special police agents to work on such cases.

No one knows exactly how many kidnappings occur here in Mexico because most crimes go unreported. Many victims and their families say they are afraid to go to the police because often police officers are working with the kidnappers.

Coparmex and other business groups say they know of more than 300 kidnappings in Mexico so far this year. Security experts say the real number is probably several times higher. The business groups try to keep track of kidnappings partly because of the negative impact the crime is having on the nation's business community.

Large firms are spending as much as 15 percent of their budgets on security and some companies have decided not to put plants in Mexico because of the crime and the high costs associated with it.

As a result, some experts say, Mexico's economy has failed to grow as fast as it could have.