When you visit Mexico City these days, the Los Angeles Times reports, you notice something: There are heavily armed guards everywhere–at the entries to restaurants, shopping centers and nightclubs, in the aisles of drugstores and music shops. These are not rent-a-cop security guards–though there are plenty of them as well–but municipal police whose weapons are always at the ready.
Preoccupation with personal security is, of course, nothing new in Mexico. The country’s wealthiest families have had bodyguards and armored vehicles and have lived in walled, even turreted, homes since at least the 1970s, when kidnappings were a tactic of revolutionary groups.
But the kidnapping epidemic now affects the middle class, and there is a new type–the “express,” or short-term, kidnapping, carried out for discount ransoms of withdrawals from ATM machines. It seems the entire city has undergone a mass behavior-modification program. Nightclub-goers have long discussed the availability of parking spaces when planning an outing; today they must plan for security as well. Drivers place their hands on the bottoms of their steering wheels so that watches, rings and bracelets are less visible at stoplights and congested intersections. Surveys show that about 70% of the city’s people venture out less often at night.
It’s not just the natives who are constantly wary. Tourism has been slightly down in recent years, and at least some of it can be attributed to fears of crime. People who haven’t visited Mexico City for several years are usually startled by the changes that security worries have wrought. The nicer hotels and restaurants keep their front doors locked. Not many foreigners or prosperous Mexicans take “libre,” or independent, cabs anymore. Today’s style is to hire an “executive taxi”–an armored hack. And cabs leaving upscale hotels have to declare their destinations to transit police while concierges take note of their license plates.