Mexico the country of Salsa, Tortillas and Corruption;I first arrived in Mexico City in February 2002 as an instructor for the WFB ? the World Federation of Bodyguards. A Mexican security service had contracted Anders Sorenson, the Norwegian WFB instructor and I, to set-up a training program for BG’s in Mexico.
I came through customs and the weapons search, shaking my head at the Mexican officials who only spoke Spanish, making my visa interview a complete waste of time.
That was one of my first lessons about Mexico; almost all Mexicans dream of going to the US to live however, the vast majority speaks nothing but Mexican Spanish. This lack of English knowledge goes all the way from the basic uneducated labour worker to the university-educated attorney at law!
On my second day in Mexico, I witnessed a Mexican Assassination complete with a “Hollywood-Movie” car chase. Sitting in our chauffeur driven vehicle, I was enjoying the sights in the city of Morelia, Michoacan, when I suddenly heard the well-known sounds of automatic rifle fire. A few seconds later a Bronco jeep, riddled with bullet holes sped past us. The jeep rammed into a vehicle right in front of us and stopped momentarily. The front seat passenger was hanging half out of the shattered side window, half his head gone with brain mass showing, in the rear a woman slumped covered in blood. Then the driver regained his senses and sped off down the street ramming other cars as he fled.
The sounds of automatic fire bursts came again but much louder and nearer. Seconds later a black jeep sped by, with two shooters hanging out the windows firing automatic bursts from AR-15’s. By now, from the rear seat, I was yelling at our chauffeur to give chase and try to ram the second vehicle; however, the chauffeur were paralyzed with shock and did not react, until Anders slapped him back to reality.
When we finally gave chase we just glimpsed the assassins jeep, take a right turn at an intersection 30 metres away. Our chauffeur was whining about it being to dangerous to get close to the assassins, however he managed to give a speedy chase. As we turned right at the intersection we witnessed 10-15 heavily, armed Police officers surround the assassins jeep.
The driver of the Bronco jeep were slumped dead over the steering wheel, he had done all he could to evade the attack site and escape the assassins. Realizing the assassins would not relent, the driver had driven with the horn flaring into the no-parking zone, surrounding the heavily guarded high-security police detention centre, where he knew help were immediately at hand.
The assassination turned out to be a drug cartel hit, the dead man in the front were a cartel leader, the woman in the rear was his wife and the driver was his personal bodyguard. The three assassins were arrested and charged with three counts of murder; they all pled guilty and subsequently each received a 12-year prison sentence, with parole after 8 years.
My real surprise about the assassination was the fact that the assassins continued their attack after the target had evaded the attack-site.
This contradicts all “normal” modus operandi for professional assassins, as giving chase across town exposes the whole assassin team to witnesses and law enforcement. Months earlier, I would have argued that this type of “spray and pray” car chase could only happen in a Hollywood movie.
When I discussed this matter with the CEO of the local TV-Azteca, he told me the reason for the continued attack, was that the assassins had more fear of botching the hit, than being arrested by the police. They knew that their Cartel leader would not accept failure and that he would reward their loyalty and commitment. They received the best legal defence money could buy, bribes to the attorney and judges, grease to the prison guards etc. Eight years in prison was simply not such a bad deal for the assassins! This is a similar situation to what is happening in Russia, where standard CP preventive methods, just will not protect your ass either.
The assassination proved to be a blessing in disguise, at least to Anders and I, who suddenly were the two most “wanted” persons in Morelia city. We had requests and questions about training, coming in from police VIP protection teams and security managers for the filthy rich. The WFB could not have arrived in town on a better day.
Being the flavor of the month:
Everyone in protection and his dog wanted to see what we had to offer in the training field. Everyone was very interested but also very sceptical about our training, the Mexicans are wary off gringos with the solutions to all their problems. Very candidly, they told us that they had “enough” experience with no-good American (US) templates for everything. Our schedule was quickly filled with meetings followed by training contracts.
In the next months we provided training seminars and courses to corporate VIP protection units and various police departments in the states of Michoacan and San Luis Potosi. The Police departments we provided training to included state SWAT teams and Ministerial Hostage Rescue Teams. These courses were hosted by the State Police Academies and we even held a seminar for the Army during Army Day.
Mexico has more than its fair share of drug related crime, robberies, kidnaps and assassinations. In 2002 Mexico became the number 1 country for kidnappings, taking the lead over even Columbia, a position Mexico held until toppled by China in 2004. There are currently about 4000 kidnappings a year in Mexico. A report published in 2002 by the Mexican Ministry of Justice, found that former or serving Police Officers were involved in the planning or cover up of 80% of all kidnappings.
Training the Police:
One of the interesting facts about Mexico is the enormous amount of Police Officers pr capita. Even in a medium size state such as SLP there are more than 3000 State Police Officers. Add that on top of a heavy presence of City, Federal and Ministerial Police Officers. For a “European” the shear amount of Police Officers and independent departments are staggering and the jurisdictions are often over lapping and confusing. There are almost zero communication between the different departments and Petty rivalries are commonplace, between departments of the State Police and the Federal and Ministerial Police.
During a course for the Ministerial Police HRT, we had to stop early because the course was held at the State Police Academy, which were shared by State and the Ministerial Police. However the State Academy chief were annoyed with the Ministerial Police and decided suddenly that they could not use the firing range as it was officially under supervision of the State Police etc.
This is one thing foreigners need to bear in mind in Mexico, politics are part of everything and corruption is not a dirty word. Every “chief” were looking for “what’s in it for me” and if you could provide him with something he wanted, there were ends to what you could do. Firearms are a very delicate matter in Mexico, only the Police and Army has the right to bear arms. Bodyguards are not officially allowed to bear arms, but if you know the right “chiefs” the law means nothing.
However that does not prevent other Police departments from having a say about you carrying arms. During our third course in Mexico, we were training a Corporate VIP Protection unit of the Industrial Police. The Industrial Police were simply a “name” for a unit sponsored by the wealthy in a certain state; they would hire their Bodyguards and then have them “hired” on paper by the Industrial Police. This way the Corporate VIP protection units could legally carry arms. The Bodyguards would thus receive a salary from the Industrial Police and a substantial cash bonus by the corporation they were working for.
Weapons or rather a lack of weapons:
Another interesting problem in Mexico is the acquirement of weapons as the only “body” who have the legal right to import arms and ammunition is the Army. Even the Police Departments have to purchase or lease their weapons and ammunition through the Army. This unfortunately means that the prizes for legal weapons and ammunition are absolutely outrageous. The Army uses its monopoly to fund its own weapons and ammunition purchases and needs, thus the Army have “free” weapons and ammunition due to the tax they levy on the Police.
One result of this is that you can now see Soldiers brandishing new MP-5s used for guard duty, while the local Police SWAT team are still relying on UZIs and Beretta M-12s. It also results in an outrageously low amount of ammunition allowed for training Police Officers in the use of firearms. The majority of Police Officers fire less than 20 bullets a year and in one state, I witnessed the weapons training and the following weapons certification of Police Cadets, after having fired only 12 bullets from a revolver! More than two thirds of the Cadets did not hit their target with more than 2 bullets out of 12, from a 10 meter distance! After this I was “scared” when around armed Police Cadets, I jokingly told the local Chief of Police, to please not attempt to rescue me should I be kidnapped.
Among the interesting aspects of Mexican “Bodyguarding” we found that the vast majority preferred to stick their gun in the back of the pants, gangster style. And avidly claimed that this was the safest and easiest method of carrying a handgun, however during training courses the guns would be dropping all over the place. The main reason for this is that the Bodyguards are not assigned a firearm, but usually pass it between when changing shifts, thus they are to “cheap” to buy their own holster. We made it “clear” that this was unacceptable and students only made the mistake of “tugging” their gun in once!
Bodyguarding the Mexican style:
Another interesting aspect of Mexican “Bodyguarding” is the fact that many VIPs prefer (demands) to drive their own vehicle, thus the Bodyguards are merely following in a back up vehicle. There were daily stories of smart ass VIPs (usually the sons of the wealthy) simply out-driving the Bodyguards, the sons were of course driving Ferrari’s or other sport cars. One Fortune 500 VIP we trained for preferred to drive himself around in a two seat Mercedes Cabriolet, which of course made protecting him hell for the BGs.
Those readers who have access to the first issue of Protection News, can see a picture of the WFB adapting its Embus and Debus training to accommodate the VIP driving his own car. We also found that most wealthy VIPs had a huge luxury bus, which they used for cross state travelling inside Mexico. Due to this we had to improvise and adapt Embus and Debus drills to accommodate this and teach linear assault on busses, during the Counter Assault Team training.
A True Life Experience:
Mexico was a breath of fresh air to me as a European CPO, everything were different from working in Europe and the threat level were far higher and by experience we learned that the BGs can not rely of the Police. The vast majority of BGs and Police Officers I met and trained with (several hundreds) were all highly motivated and good guys, who really wanted to learn. They were all sick with the way things were in Mexico and especially the corruption, but there were little they could do about it. Mexico is truly a land of opportunity for the European BG training provider, as long as you accept the rules of business; “corruption” and status quo. If you want to earn money in Mexico, simply go there on vacation and drop in for a visit, by the VIP security managers and local Police Chiefs and soon you will find yourself immersed in the Mexican BG business.
One night when I was having a drink with a local Police Chief, I complained about the obvious drug trafficking. The chief looked at me and said; when I started this job I got a mail package, within it were two packages, one contained $10.000 the other a bullet! When I asked what he did about it, he quietly said; well I am still here?
Dan Sommer is the author of the SD Agent, a Surveillance Detection Manual, he has been part of the process of designing, implementing and training a SD team for a European Embassy. His 17 years security career started in 1986 and he has active experience from military, security, close protection, counter assault team and surveillance detection operations. Since 1994 the author has been writing training material’s for security companies and police departments. He has been instructing courses world-wide for security officers, bodyguards, police officers, counter assault teams and surveillance detection units. Dan currently acts as the International Director of the World Federation of Bodyguards and has a private business as a Security & Protection Consultant. His work can be viewed at his website http://www.DanSommer.Biz