Pubdate: Wed, 02 May 2007
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2007 The Arizona Republic
Author: Chris Hawley


Republic Mexico City Bureau

MEXICO CITY - It was enough to give James Bond envy: a veritable 
supermarket of security gadgets, all laid out for sale at a Mexico 
City trade fair aimed at addressing a rising sense of insecurity in Mexico.

There were smokescreen generators and security cameras hidden in 
pencil sharpeners. There were portable bomb sniffers, bulletproof 
doors and tiny tracking devices meant to foil kidnappers.

"This is a home electric fence," said vendor Miguel Martinez, waving 
at six silvery wires that snaked around his booth at the 
Expo-Seguridad Trade Fair. "You mount it on your outside wall. 
They're becoming very popular." advertisement

The security business is booming in Mexico, thanks to a seemingly 
unending war between drug cartels, a plague of kidnappings and a 
trend toward beheadings, grenade attacks and more powerful weapons. 
Though the overall murder rate has dropped over the past 10 years, 
Mexicans are increasingly worried about crime.

About 85 percent of Mexicans believe President Felipe Calderon's 
offensive against drug cartels in recent months will increase 
violence, and half believe it will never be controlled, according to 
a national door-to-door survey of 1,200 people by the Parametria 
polling company in March. The poll had a margin of error of 2.8 
percentage points.

"I think fear is growing," said Niv Yarimi, sales director for Guibor 
Private Security, an Israeli-owned guard company that saw its 
business triple in Mexico last year.

"There's a sense that organized crime is three steps ahead of the 
security services and the police."

A surge in housing construction and the dropping price of security 
cameras has also helped drive the boom, as more middle-class Mexicans 
are able to arm their homes with alarm systems, security companies say.

According to the trade group Latin American Security Association:

The market for electronic security systems is growing 10 to 15 
percent each year in Mexico, with 60 percent of the equipment 
imported from the United States.

There are 400,000 security guards in Mexico.

Four to 5 percent of Mexico's Gross Domestic Product is spent on security.

In the past three years, the number of security-system installers 
registered with the Mexican Association of Construction Installation 
Companies has risen 50 percent, according to Rodolfo Zamora, the 
group's operations manager.

Meanwhile, the number of exhibitors at Expo-Seguridad has soared, 
from 63 in 2003 to 185 at the 2007 event last week.

High-profile crime Feeding Mexico's sense of insecurity is a 
two-year-old turf war between the Sinaloa Cartel of western Mexico 
and the Gulf Cartel of eastern Mexico. Shootouts with assault rifles 
and grenade launchers have become common in Nuevo Laredo, Acapulco, 
Monterrey and other points along cocaine-smuggling corridors.

In December, Calderon began sending thousands of troops and federal 
agents to quell the violence in western and northern Mexico.

"Mexico must not and will not fall into the hands of criminals," 
Calderon said last month. "We must employ all of the strength of the 
state to rescue our streets, our parks, our cities, our schools."

But killings resume as soon as the troops leave. And the slayings are 
becoming more gruesome, with some hit men decapitating their victims 
and posting the videos on Web sites like YouTube.

Meanwhile, Mexicans' confidence in their police has been eroded by 
assassinations of top lawmen in Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Agua Prieta 
and other cities.

Traffickers also killed at least nine journalists and kidnapped 
another three in 2006, making Mexico the second deadliest country for 
journalists after Iraq, according to Reporters without Borders.

Normal citizens, too, are often targeted for kidnappings, either for 
ransom or so kidnappers can force them to withdraw money from ATMs 
over several days.

Based on a 2006 survey, the Citizen's Institute for Studies on 
Insecurity estimated that more than 77,800 people in 16 of Mexico's 
biggest cities had been kidnapping victims. These estimates are 
considered to be more accurate than government numbers because only a 
fraction of crimes are reported to police in Mexico.At 
Expo-Seguridad, at least four companies offered tracking devices 
meant to counter kidnappers and carjackers.

One company, Enlace de Vida, was marketing a wristwatch-style "panic 
button" that executives can use to summon private security.

"Technology support for your security corps, to give you more 
confidence," a banner over the booth said.

Terrorism fears Mexican government agencies and private companies are 
also becoming more aware of their vulnerability to terrorism, 
security experts say.

Petroleos Mexicanos, the state oil monopoly, has been ramping up 
security since al-Qaida issued a statement in February urging 
militants to attack Mexico, Canada and other suppliers of oil to the 
United States.

U.S. security rules are forcing Mexican airports to beef up their 
security, as well.

An armed uprising in the city of Oaxaca last year also raised fears 
of civil unrest in Mexico. During that clash, sympathizers set off 
bombs outside foreign-owned banks in Mexico City.

"This would have handled those bombs, no problem," said Luis Gomez, 
holding up a heavy black blanket sold by his company, Moro-Security. 
The "bomb-suppression blanket" is meant to be thrown over grenades 
and bombs until police arrive.

Cameras everywhere Under pressure from citizens to crack down on 
crime, Mexico's federal government is paying for "urban security 
systems," networks of outdoor cameras monitored by computers, in 16 
of the country's 31 states.

In Tijuana over the past two years, the city government has installed 
320 cameras and 70 microphones tuned to detect gunfire.

The violence-riddled state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, 
announced plans in November for a statewide camera system it calls 
the Northern Border Program.

In Mexico City, tourists in the cobblestone colonial district are 
watched over by 100 security cameras installed in 2003 by Bradenton, 
Fla.-based GE Security. Each of the city's 16 boroughs has a network 
of cameras, too.

Soon, even the city's watchdogs will be watched. In January, Mexico 
City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard announced that the city would install 
cameras in 70 prosecutors' and detective offices to cut down on 
police corruption.

Whether the cameras have had much effect is unclear. In Mexico City, 
for example, murders leveled off between 2001 and 2005 but crime rose 
25 percent, according to the Citizen's Institute for Studies on 
Insecurity. The increase came despite new security systems, public and private.

But security industry officials say the increase in their sales shows 
Mexicans are at least trying to fight back.

"At the rate that Mexico is growing, I don't know how easily you can 
reduce crime," said Guillermo Palma, Mexican sales director for U.S. 
equipment maker Pelco.

"But with (security system sales) people are taking the initiative 
and doing what they can," he said. "The culture of the Mexican has 
changed: 'Why should I wait for something bad to happen to me?' "
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman