MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Mexico is pushing forward with a bloody offensive against the drug cartels and violence is spreading across the country. One form of violence that's been on the rise is kidnapping. Last week, the mayor of the small city outside Monterrey was abducted, tortured and killed. A leader of President Calderon's own party is currently being held hostage. And despite pledges by the government to crack down on kidnapping rings, reports of abductions are rising.
NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.
JASON BEAUBIEN: In Mexico, it's not only the wealthy who worry about being held for ransom. People from all levels of society: farmers, street vendors, small business owners, professionals get kidnapped.
Mr. JULIAN HAKIM: I told them I told them, you guys can take the car, just let me get out. I don't know why you need me. Take the car, take my wallet.
BEAUBIEN: Julian Hakim, who's a medical student, was abducted by two men in a shopping center parking garage in Mexico City. They jammed pistols into his ribs and forced him into the passenger seat.
Mr. HAKIM: They told me to keep me calm that they're going to take me to my home, drop me off at my house. I was, like, that's fine, that's fine.
BEAUBIEN: But they didn't take him home. The men took him to an ATM and ordered him to withdraw his daily limit from his credit cards. Then they ordered him to get back into his aging VW Passat and they pulled out into Mexico City's late afternoon gridlock.
So-called express kidnappings like the one of Hakim are the most common and tend to be for the least amount of money but can still be terrifying.
Mr. HAKIM: So by this, an hour had gone by, you know. We're driving. We're stuck in traffic. And all of a sudden, he hits a car, takes off, you know, cusses out the guy. The guy in the back wanted to get out and shoot him. So the guy driving told him to not do that, to please not do that.
I couldn't believe it. I was, like, this can't be real, you know. But I just kept anything I said, I'd get hit. I'd get hit in the ribs or I'd get hit in the face anything. They're, like, why are you talking back? Boom. And they'd hit me.
BEAUBIEN: The most high-profile kidnapping case currently in Mexico is that of El Jefe Diego, one of the country's most powerful politicians. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos is a leader of President Felipe Calderon's political party, the PAN. He also was the runner-up in the 1994 presidential elections. Gunmen snatched Fernandez in May. His captors released photos of the 69-year-old, shirtless, gaunt and blindfolded. The local press reports that the ransom demand for Fernandez started at $50 million.
Carlos Seoane, the vice president of Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations in Mexico, says kidnapping here is a business. The sophistication of the kidnappers varies, but he says it's always an organized crime.
Mr. CARLOS SEOANE (Vice President, Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations): I mean, it's not an individual crime. You cannot do it by yourself. You have to have a group. You have to take care of the victim. You have to capture the victim. You have to go out on the streets and make negotiations. And from there, go pick up the money. And then release the victim. It's very difficult than to, say, grab a car and get the hell out of there.
BEAUBIEN: Seoane says Pinkerton doesn't negotiate directly with kidnappers, but his company provides crisis management during hostage situations. They guide the family through the process of swapping money for their relative.
Mr. SEOANE: But that process could be pretty messy, or pretty violent or pretty long or pretty expensive sometimes. So we focus a lot on reducing the time and protecting the familys assets.
BEAUBIEN: Last week the mayor of Santiago, just outside the industrial city of Monterrey, was abducted and eventually killed. Also in Monterrey, police this week freed a half dozen people who were being held captive by a kidnapping gang. Over the weekend in Chihuahua, a construction magnate was snatched from the local country club.
Seoane says that one of the difficulties in Mexico is that the drug cartels have now gotten into kidnapping to supplement their income. He says some of these gangs don't understand the complexity of ransom negotiations and they also tend to be much more violent. Seoane says there used to be a criminal code of conduct in Mexico. Not any longer.
Mr. SEOANE: There are no codes. There are no boundaries. There are no limits. There's a high degree of impunity. So that's the big worry of all of us that live in Mexico. There were limits in the past. Now there are no limits.
BEAUBIEN: Politicians have been calling for increased prison terms and the government has offered million dollar rewards for some of Mexico's most notorious kidnappers. Yet, according to official statistics, the number of reported abductions continues to rise by roughly 15 percent a year.
Julian Hakim was actually lucky. His kidnapping only lasted six hours. He was held in his passenger seat at gunpoint as his captors cruised, it seemed to him, aimlessly around the capital. Eventually they drove him out of Mexico City, heading north towards Queretaro.
Mr. HAKIM: And then he kept hitting me and it was in the same spot. It was repetitive. So it got to a point where�it was very painful, but mentally I was just torn into pieces, you know, I was just so scared for my life that I didn't care if they left the biggest bruise in the world; I just didn't want them to kill me. And that was the mental scars that they left on me were the worst.
BEAUBIEN: Finally they dumped him by the side of the road and sped off with his car. Despite his captors telling him theyd kill him if he went to the authorities, he filed a police report. And as is the norm in so many of these cases in Mexico, nothing ever came of it.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.