Mexico drug war fuels private security boom

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Guadalajara, Mexico – Having spent the morning
rumbling through downtown Guadalajara in their
impenetrable armoured van, the three Seguritec
employees entrusted with collecting cash from
local businesses stopped to receive one last
payment.
Two of them got out to collect the
money, but upon returning to their vehicle they
realised their colleague had fled with about $
800,000 in local currency.
It was an embarrassing setback for Seguritec , a
private security firm with the slogan: “Security and
trust in transporting valuables”.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a problem of this
kind,” Rafael Torres, Seguritec’s local
representative, told Al Jazeera. “The money
belonged to our clients, who are mostly local
banks, but it should be insured. We’ll be carrying
out our own investigation and aiding the
authorities however we can.”

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Federal police caught the alleged culprit with
suitcases full of cash just five days later, but the
heist on July 29 added to the growing list of
controversies involving Mexico’s thriving private
security industry.
Business has been booming since Felipe Calderon,
who was president at that time, declared war on
organised crime in December 2006, yet insiders
and security experts warn that the industry is rife
with corruption and that its rapid growth risks
exacerbating security inequality by encouraging
authorities to neglect public security.
There are currently 1,168 private security firms
registered with Mexico’s federal government, up
from only 173 in 2005. The majority are located in
Mexico City, the adjacent Mexico state, and
western Jalisco state, which encompasses
Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city.
Arnulfo Garibo Ramírez, president of the National
Confederation of Private Security Firms, told Al
Jazeera that there are another 8,000 to 10,000
unlicensed firms operating illegally in Mexico, with
anywhere from 240,000 to 600,000 employees.

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‘A really dirty business’
Sitting outside a quiet Guadalajara cafe one sunny
Saturday morning, the former private security
professional Juan Castillo told Al Jazeera the boom
is a by-product of the government offensive that
caused the large cartels that specialised in
transnational drug-trafficking to fragment into
smaller gangs dedicated to more predatory crimes
such as kidnapping, robbery and extortion.
With Mexico’s middle and upper classes
increasingly affected [PDF] , the demand for private
security skyrocketed.
His dark eyes constantly scanning the perimeter
for any unusual activity, Castillo, who asked that
his name be changed to protect his identity, said
the security industry “is a really dirty business”.
With guards typically making only $300 a month,
he said many supplement their income by stealing
shipments of pharmaceuticals, electronics, alcohol,
cigarettes or other goods that they are supposed
to be protecting.
Others make extra cash as cartel lookouts, Castillo
added, while many criminal gangs even found their
own security firms to disguise or partially
legitimise their operations. Acquiring a licence for
security guards to carry guns, for example, is a
simple way of subverting Mexico’s ban on
firearms.

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