Where You’re Most Likely to Get Kidnapped in Mexico
Kidnapping is an epidemic in the north and central regions
Mexico is the most dangerous country for kidnapping in the world. But the crime is not evenly distributed. In some areas, kidnapping has reached epidemic levels. Other areas are relatively safer, and in some regions, the danger is quite low.
Now a new report—in Spanish—from the watchdog group National Citizen Observatory shows where kidnapping in Mexico is at its worst. The scale of the problem varies from state to state, but in general, central and northern Mexico is where you’re most likely to be kidnapped.
When visualized, it looks like a belt of extremely high rates of kidnapping stretching across central Mexico, surrounding the capital and then snaking up along the eastern coastal states to the Texas border.
Not surprisingly, these areas also correspond to regions with high levels of drug violence.
Researchers at InSight, a website focused on tracking Latin American organized crime, translated some of the report’s details. In terms of sheer numbers of kidnapped people, the problem is extremely dire in the central Mexican states of Guerrero, Morelos and Mexico—the state, not to be confused with the country of Mexico. But the per capita rate is highest in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, near the U.S. border.
There’s more bad news. Kidnappings reached their highest levels ever in Mexico last year, with 1,698 kidnappings in 2013, according to the Mexican government. But this number is likely a low ball.
Two human rights organizations, the Association to Stop Kidnapping and the Front Line Defenders, puts the total at 3,038 and 27,740, respectively, according to The Washington Post.
Recently, the National Security Secretariat reported that kidnappings declined in the first six months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013. In other words, a drop from 975 kidnappings to 909.
That would be good news. But the ONC and the Association to Stop Kidnapping say the number has actually increased this year. The latter says the number jumped by more than 50 percent in 2014.
“The security drive has decapitated many of Mexico’s foremost drug cartels and limited their ability to earn revenue from drug trafficking,” wrote InSight’s Marguerite Cawley. “But it also prompted the emergence of newer, smaller criminal organizations that have turned to other forms of income besides the drug trade.”
It’s important not to put too much stock in exact numbers. Fear of corrupt police, absence of police in rural communities and retaliation from cartels means that only a fraction of Mexicans report kidnappings. It’s also expected that police across the breadth of the country will be inconsistent in recording and reporting crimes of every sort.
There’s also different kinds of kidnappings. While criminals may snatch and hold a wealthy person for months—or years—awaiting a lucrative pay day, more frequent are so-called express kidnappings, in which criminals hold a victim for few hours until the family pays a small ransom.
In any case, this is a disturbing trend. As we debate the usefulness of news blackouts after the Islamic State murdered hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines, it’s worth noting Mexico is experiencing a news blackout of its own.
During the Felipe Calderon administration, the government regularly publicized cartel arrests, forcing gangsters to pose in front of mountains of seized cocaine and assault weapons alongside balaclava-wearing federal troops. That’s now a thing of the past.
Since the election of Pres. Enrique Pena Nieto, the government has taken stretches to downplay military operations against the cartels. The logic is that publicizing the drug war frightens people and gives Mexico a bad reputation.
Investors are less likely to invest, and tourists might consider spending their money on a Caribbean cruise instead of a Mexican resort—despite the high levels of security and personal safety in places like Cancun.
The international media is also less interested than it was before, and is getting less information from the government’s public affairs agencies. This has helped boost tourism, but it doesn’t appear to be making Mexico any safer for the people who live there.