A Tale of Three Cities: Assessing the Security Situation in San Miguel de Allende, Chapala Ajijic, and Mexico City
There are many compelling reasons to visit or retire in Mexico. The country’s proximity to the United States, favorable climate, low cost of living, and natural beauty attracts large numbers of retirees and tourists every year. Nonetheless, despite decades of effort by Mexican security forces to stamp out organized crime, many parts of the country struggle to maintain the rule of law. While some areas suffer more than others, once tranquil locations that played host of foreign tourists and retirees now find themselves with a front-row seat to the type of criminal activity that used to happen elsewhere in Mexico.
Consider what’s happened in the once peaceful state of Guanajuato. In January 2019, the government closed the Salamanca-León gas pipeline running through the region to prevent fuel theft by organized crime and to allow time to marshal 500 members of the military, state, and federal police to ensure its security. As a result, during the pipeline’s closure, much of the country relied on tankers to move fuel, which created inevitable bottlenecks in the fuel supply chain. As a result, many parts of the country, including the state of Guanajuato, experienced fuel shortages.
Violent Turf Wars a Part of Daily Life
While shortages are an inconvenience, the arrival of criminal gangs from Jalisco and Michoacán that rely on kidnapping, theft, and extortion threatens to change a region known for its safety and security to one of the many forced to confront a rise in violent crime. Inevitably, the convergence of criminal gangs comes with a cost. In 2018, Guanajuato initiated 3,290 murder investigations, which is three times the number recorded in 2017.
Guanajuato isn’t the only State experiencing a marked increase in criminal activity. Other tourist traps and retirement havens, including the towns of Ajijic and Chapala in the State of Jalisco experience the effects of drug-related violence occasionally as well, including kidnappings and extortion. Further afield in Cancun, a perennial favorite with tourists, in August 2018, officials discovered eight bodies with various causes of death dumped outside the city’s hotel zone.
Even Mexico City, which historically experiences a relatively low level of cartel activity, saw an increase in violence in 2018, including the discovery of dismembered bodies along with a banner used by cartel members to send warnings to the community and intimidate their rivals.
Bolstering Your Personal Security
The existence of any level of organized crime is never a positive development for an area. While criminals focus much of their effort on lucrative endeavors, such as gas theft and cargo theft, organized crime in Mexico often engages in other forms of criminal activity to supplement their income. For example, kidnapping and the extortion of businesses is a persistent problem for Mexico.
While various forms of kidnapping exist, Mexican gangs tend to focus their efforts on express, virtual, or traditional kidnapping schemes. In an express kidnapping, criminals hold people captive for 24 to 48 hours and force them to make the maximum cash withdrawal their bank allows from an ATM. Virtual kidnapping works differently. There’s no kidnapping. Instead, through trickery, threats, and intimidation, criminals pretend to kidnap someone to extort money from their family members. In traditional kidnapping, criminals detain the victim until their family pays a ransom.
Ensuring your security whether on vacation, traveling to the country on business, or as a permanent resident requires a willingness to think differently about your daily routine and how enticing a target you present. In many cases, it makes sense to engage a suitably qualified third party to conduct an independent assessment of your situation. A personal security vulnerability assessment (PSVA), provides an in-depth analysis of your home, work, and personal life to identify areas criminals might exploit. Depending on your particular situation, a PSVA can cover the following areas for you and the members of your family:
- Threat Assessment
- Residential security assessment
- Office and facility security assessment
- Information and communications security at the family’s home
- In-town travel analysis
- Out-of-town travel analysis
At the conclusion of the assessment, you will receive a detailed report detailing our analysis and observations and recommendations on areas for improvement. FirstCall’s PSVA provides an independent third-party review and practical recommendations based on industry best practices and decades of security experience in Mexico.
While those who live and work in Mexico hope President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s recent announcement declaring an end to the drug war results in peace, realistically, as long as criminal gangs exist, so too does the potential for violence.