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Mexican President to Propose Tougher Jail Sentences for Kidnappers - 2004-06-17

Mexican President Vicente Fox is planning to strengthen laws on kidnapping, a crime which continues to cause a major crisis for his administration.

President Fox has ordered his Public Security Task Force, which includes the ministers of defense, interior, public security, and foreign affairs, to improve their efforts to combat organized crime, especially kidnapping.

He has also announced that he is sending a bill to Congress, which demands tougher jail sentences for kidnappers and permission for local authorities to use federal expertise and resources to stop kidnapping.

Jose Antonio Ortega, president of the National Security Commission at the Mexican Employers Association, known as Copamex, points out that only one in every three kidnappings in Mexico is reported to the authorities because few people have confidence in the police.

Mr. Ortega says that the kidnapping rate in and around Mexico City has increased 740 percent during the past seven years.

Mr. Ortega argues that this situation can and must be reversed. He explains that action taken in Colombia by its president, Alvaro Uribe, reduced kidnapping by more than 60 percent in just two years. But Mr. Ortega says the crisis in Mexico remains unchanged, because President Fox still has not gotten past the planning and words phase.

"The difference is that Alvaro Uribe has more energy," he noted. "He puts all things against the kidnappers. He puts all the armed forces, the police and everything. Money, professional schools and everything against the kidnappers. In Mexico, our president is thinking about the problem, if the problem is real or not. And we need more energy and more push."

Rolando Solis is a former U.S. Secret Service bodyguard who protected four U.S. presidents. He now runs the Mexico City branch of an executive security firm, Vance International. Mr. Solis says that a recent survey shows that 98 percent of kidnappings in Mexico are successful for criminals, which is a clear example of the true depth and gravity of the current situation.

"That means that less than two percent, or two percent get arrested and less than that actually get convicted. So you see it is a low risk crime with high returns for the kidnapper," he said.

Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcielos, the special prosecutor for serious crime at the Mexican attorney general's office, insists that with the proper nationwide networks combined with absolute and resolute determination, the kidnapping crisis in Mexico, can and will be overcome.

He says the results we have obtained up to now, are very positive and very optimistic, and we can win very easily, and we will win with coordination, interchange of information, immediate decisions and with the unity of all of us.

But before more progress can be achieved, President Fox's crime bill will have to survive the close scrutiny and likely amendments of a politically hostile Congress.