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Kidnapping thrives in Mexico

Congress is slated to debate a law that would crack down on "express kidnappings."

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When Héctor Pineda Velázquez was kidnapped from his ranch in Guerrero state and held by masked captors for more than a month, his family didn't notify the press or ask authorities to help secure his release. They paid an undisclosed ransom.

That may seem strange, considering Mr. Pineda is a federal congressman.

"Everything was arranged by my family, in particular, my son," a disheveled and distraught Pineda told reporters outside his home in Coyuca de Catalán on Sept. 6, the day he was released.

After the string of highly publicized child-abduction cases this summer, Americans might find it hard to imagine that a kidnapped high-level Mexican official barely makes the news here – and receives no official help.

But in Mexico, a kidnapping occurs every six hours on average. Mexico is now second only to war-torn Colombia in the number of annual kidnappings. While few victims are killed, few perpetrators in this thriving multimillion-dollar industry are ever caught.

"In the US, the great majority of the kidnapping cases are solved," says Walter Farrer, the Mexico operations chief at the security firm Pinkerton and Burns International. "Here, it's a business, and as awful as it sounds, it is treated as a transaction."

And business is up. The Mexican business association, Coparmex, which tracks kidnapping, lists 331 reported cases so far this year, compared to 221 in all of 2001. The actual figure, however, is estimated to be three or four times higher. According to various studies, fewer than a third of families here ever report a kidnapping, apparently out of fear that Mexico's corrupt and inefficient police are either involved in the crime or will botch any rescue effort.

Moreover, the common "express kidnap" – in which a victim is briefly abducted, forced to withdraw money from ATMs, and then released – is considered violent robbery under Mexican law. Government statistics indicate there are more than 10 express kidnaps a day here – or about 4,000 a year.

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