A chip but no cheap way to fight Mexico's kidnappings
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According to official statistics, kidnappings in Mexico jumped 40 percent over the past three years. Now, the wealthy Mexicans who fear kidnapping can pay to have a transmitter put under their skin so that satellites can locate them.
Kidnapping jumped almost 40 percent between 2004 and 2007 in
The recent kidnapping and murder of Fernando Marti, 14, the son of a well-known businessman, sparked an outcry in a country already hardened to crime.
More people, including a growing number of middle-class Mexicans, are seeking out the tiny chip designed by Xega, a Mexican security firm whose sales jumped 13 percent this year. The company said it had more than 2,000 clients.
Detractors say the chip is little more than a gadget that serves no real security purpose.
The company injects the crystal-encased chip, the size and shape of a grain of rice, into clients' bodies with a syringe. A transmitter in the chip then sends radio signals to a larger device carried by the client with a global positioning system in it, Xega says. A satellite can then pinpoint the location of a person in distress.
Cristina, 28, who did not want to give her last name, was implanted along with seven other members of her family last year as a "preventive measure."
"It's not like we are wealthy people, but they'll kidnap you for a watch. ... Everyone is living in fear," she said.
The chips cost $4,000 plus an annual fee of $2,200.
Most kidnappings in
Official statistics show 751 kidnappings in
Xega, based in the central Mexican city of
Most people get the chips injected into their arms between the skin and muscle where they cannot be seen. Customers who fear they are being kidnapped press a panic button on an external device to alert Xega, which then calls the police.
"Before, they only kidnapped key, well-known economically successful people like industrialists and landowners. Now they are kidnapping people from the middle class," said Sergio Galvan, Xega's commercial director.
Katherine Albrecht, a
She said fear of kidnapping was driving well-off Mexicans to buy a technology that had yet to prove useful.
"They are a prime target because they've got money and they've got a worry and you can combine those two and offer them a false sense of security which is exactly what this is," she said.
President Felipe Calderon has come under heavy pressure to stamp out violent crime. He hosted a meeting on Thursday of security chiefs and state governors.
Xega sees kidnapping as a growth industry and is planning to expand its services next year to
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