While Mexico, Colombia, Peru and some other Latin American economies post higher-than-average growth rates, they are also seeing a rise in less desirable activity — kidnappings and crime.
Without taking the necessary precautions, business executives seeking opportunities in the region risk getting caught in the crosshairs as the bad guys seek to make a quick bundle through kidnappings and ransoms.
Avoiding getting hog-tied and tossed into the back of a sedan involves getting the right training, says Mike Clayton, director at TAC Group Solutions, a Texas-based company that provides risk assessment and crisis management resolutions for corporations, families and NGOs. “Kidnappers, all they really need to know are two things: Does the family have money or do you work for a company that would pay a ransom; and where you’re going to be at a given time.”
Clayton, who grew up in Latin America, speaks excellent Spanish. He lists the countries where his firm sees the most activity: Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil — and Mexico, of course.
Earlier this year, the Mexican government released dismal statistics: The country experienced an average of six kidnappings per day in the first half of 2011, up 23.4% from the same period in 2010. But those figures seem conservative in comparison with an estimate by the Council for Law and Human Rights that Mexico had 17,889 kidnappings in 2011. Venezuela is also a hotbed for human abduction, with government statistics claiming more than 16,000 kidnappings in 2009.
Clayton got his own training at a young age from the U.S. State Department, where his father worked. TAC teaches clients how to change their routines and what signs to look for in order to avoid a kidnapping. “I review the client schedule … to coordinate with family members, how to spot surveillance, do a bit of counter-surveillance … and how to put the attention onto the suspicious people and get them off your tail,” he says.
If the worst happens, and you become a victim of a kidnapping, Clayton offers some simple advice: “If you’re a victim, basically you do what you’re told to do. You’ve lost all your freedoms.”
TAC and its global network of consultants also specialize in rescue missions. Their tactics can differ from those of the police. “I prefer to negotiate the release, and I’ve done that working with the police, but nine times out of 10 once they figure out where the victim is they will go in to attempt a rescue,” says Clayton. “I have a better success rate at negotiating the people out.”
TAC’s professional negotiators will train the family on what to say and what not to say when the kidnappers make contact. And when the phone call comes in, Clayton will be listening in on the conversation. The bad guys don’t know he’s there.
Normal kidnappings, if they can be described that way, last from three to seven days. Express kidnappings, which last roughly several hours, are becoming increasingly popular. It’s a lucrative industry for criminals, who will do what’s necessary to win their ransom money.
Clayton talks of one case in Mexico, where attempts by the police to locate the victim were fruitless. The impatient kidnappers felt it necessary to mail the victim’s pinky finger to the affected family. After a ring finger, then a middle finger made their way to the family, Clayton was called to negotiate the safe release of the victim.
Playing the game the right way can avoid some of the physical harm, says Clayton, but victims also need to be cognizant of the financial hardship that can result with a kidnapping. “What I always tell people is don’t try to negotiate your way out. Chances are you’ll be offering more money than I’m offering.”