SAN DIEGO — A Japanese executive's August kidnapping in Tijuana surprised business managers but has not slowed foreign plans for further investment or site selection along the Mexican border. ``Security in Mexico is changing dramatically,'' said Paul Magallanes, a former special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and president of Los Angeles-based security firm Magallanes Associates International Inc.
``Colombia and Brazil are the kidnapping capitals, and Mexico is No. 2 or 3 and gaining speed,'' he said.
Poor economic conditions and corrupt police officers drive the trend, he told a hastily arranged Sept. 4 seminar of the Western Maquiladora Trade Association in San Diego. ``A cop is involved in every Mexico kidnapping known to us.''
Magallanes said 2,500 federal and state police officers in Mexico have been dismissed for corruption.
``Fired police organize criminal gangs,'' he said. ``Kidnappings are quick, between 30 and 90 seconds, with low overhead and big payoffs.''
He said a new Marxist-style guerrilla group has admitted to kidnapping businessmen in Mexico and financing weapons and activities through ransoms
of $30 million in one case and $20 million in another.
The Aug. 10 abduction of Mamoru Konno, 56, then president of Sanyo Video Components USA Corp., marked the first kidnapping of a Tijuana-based executive, Magallanes said, but it is ``not remarkable'' as an event. The unit of Tokyo-based Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. makes deflection yokes, fly-back transformers and tuners for television sets.
Sanyo paid a $2 million ransom, and Konno was released Aug. 18 unharmed.
``Asians became `open season' in Tijuana because it was so easy to collect the ransom,'' Magallanes said.
The company views the event as ``an isolated case,'' said Carlos De Ordu¤a, Sanyo executive adviser.
``Some people overreact and ask for permits to bring bodyguards'' into Mexico, he said. As for Sanyo's plans, the company is opening its 10th Tijuana factory.
De Orduna noted that the Japanese Maquiladora Association in Tijuana met with Hector Teran, governor of the state of Baja California Norte, to discuss more protection and security for maquiladora companies.
A key manager with another Japanese maquiladora believes the Mexican government does not realize how prejudicial a kidnapping can be in site selection and how such incidents project instability and an inability to control a working environment.
``A kidnapping is a terrible thing, but it's one of many risks of doing business internationally,'' according to A.M. Ramirez, president of sourcing and buyers' agent company ProSource Mexico Inc., and executive vice president of maquiladora management firm Made In Mexico Inc., both in San Diego.
``We haven't seen anybody backing off on their business decisions, although some may be more cautious,'' Ramirez said.
El Cajon, Calif.-based AMS Plastics Inc. is opening a maquiladora in Mexicali in addition to its Tijuana facility, Ramirez noted.
``And a couple more plastics companies from south Los Angeles — both major players — are looking at sites now and moving to Tijuana to supply Asian electronics connections.''
Ramirez sees more internal security and more hiring of outside consulting help on security issues. Business travelers change their schedules and travel more frequently in pairs.
Many of the companies deal with higher security risks in Southeast Asian countries such as Taiwan, Thailand or Indonesia, according to Victor Castillo.
``Mexico has 35 years of history in the maquiladora industry and one incident'' involving a foreign executive, said Castillo, manager of the Small Business Development and International Trade Center at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif.
``Strong forces make Mexico attractive again,'' Castillo said. ``The industrial parks are growing rapidly again, as they did in the late 1980s.''