By Juan Ramon Peña
Kidnapping, one of the crimes that concerns Mexicans the most, is such a lucrative industry for criminals and police that there is little likelihood of seeing it reduced, journalist and writer Humberto Padgett says in his new book “Jauria.”
“Everybody makes money, except the family that sees its daily life fatally interrupted,” the journalist, who spent two years investigating kidnappers and police, as well as speaking with victims, said.
Nearly three kidnappings per day, according to official figures, are committed in Mexico.
A total of 1,181 kidnapping cases were reported last year, up 40 percent from 2008 and nearly double the level in 2006.
Only about 25 percent of kidnappings are actually reported, the National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH, estimates.
Criminals have the edge, with the statistics showing that there is only one chance in nine of catching a kidnapper.
Kidnappers could not operate without the assistance in many ways of police, whose agencies are seen as being infested with corruption.
A gang may have someone working for them inside a prosecutor’s office who tips them off as to whether a kidnapping was reported or how the investigation is proceeding so they can take measures to avoid being caught.
In other cases, police officers themselves participate in the kidnapping of someone in their custody or while ransom is being paid.
Some police officers act as “kidnapping managers,” working hand-in-hand with a gang, identifying potential victims or allowing criminals to operate freely, Padgett said.
Some officers, however, may decide at any time to “milk the bag” and arrest the criminals to show that they are efficient at doing their jobs, the journalist said.
“The press release never says ‘we could have arrested these people before 14 other kidnappings had occurred, all with mutilations,’” Padgett said.
This was, in fact, the case of one of Mexico’s most notorious kidnappers of recent times, Daniel Arizmendi, who was known for cutting off his victims’ ears.
Arizmendi, who operated in the 1990s and is serving a 398-year prison term, was the leader of a gang that had a protection network that included a state proscecutor, a state police major and another officer in the anti-kidnapping unit.
His story inspired Hollywood director Tony Scott’s film “Man on fire,” which starred Denzel Washington and was set in Mexico City.
The kidnappers in the film were called Daniel, like Arizmendi, and Aurelio, like the Mexican criminal’s accomplice.
The lucrative business does not end with a conviction because prison officials allow kidnapping gangs to operate from their facilities, Padgett said.
The recent regulations requiring the registration of cell phones were implemented to deal with this problem.
Many officials, especially those in the Public Safety Secretariat, have benefited both “in legal and illegal ways” from the kidnapping industry because budgets have been increased to fight the crime, Padgett said.
Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, who has been the target of criticism in the media, is more focused on public relations than on being effective in fighting kidnapping, the author said.
Garcia Luna was partly responsible for helping Alberto Pliego Fuentes, known as “el Superpolicia” (Supercop), make it big, Padgett alleges in “Jauria.”
Pliego Fuentes, who was a key associate of Arizmendi and was accused of helping the Juarez drug cartel, died from cancer in prison.