Despite the Mexican government’s high-profile capture last week of American-born kingpin Edgar Valdez “La Barbie” Villarreal, the country’s drug war continues to spiral out of control. A telling sign: ordinary Mexicans, who until now have largely been removed from the carnage, are turning to private security firms for help. Over the past four years, drug-related violence has killed a staggering 28,500 people across the country. Most of the murders have involved drug traffickers, or to a lesser extent law-enforcement officials, in northern border cities such as Ciudad Juárez. But for the last year and a half, the violence has spread south into previously peaceful cities like Monterrey, where drug gangs such as Los Zetas now routinely target small businesses and the middle class for kidnapping and extortions. As a result, the private security industry is booming, analysts say. Firms registered with the Mexican government jumped from 421 in 2007 to 659 in 2010, according to the National Council of Private Security. And these registered firms account for just 8 percent of the roughly 8,000 security companies believed to be operating—most of them illegally—in the country. Mexico’s elite readily turn to armored cars and full-time bodyguards, but middle-class communities and small businesses have to go the cheaper route: they rely on alarm systems, cameras, and part-time security guards, says Francisco Quinones of Clayton Consultants, a Virginia-based crisis-management firm. Bulletproof clothing, long a form of protection for Colombia’s middle class, has yet to catch on. But if the war worsens, designer flak jackets could be next.
US Attorney's Office / AP