Last weekend, in a police station/trailer parked next to Boulevard Insurgentes, a policewoman eating lunch with her children said the office had been there only a week and she was not aware of the abduction. At offices up the hill overlooking vast maquiladora assembly plants of such giants as Hyundai and Samsung, a more modest compound identified itself as “El Florido Raserver S.A. de C.V.” From behind a chain-link gate, a nervous guard affirmed that this was the headquarters of “Colonel Serrano’s” business. He didn’t respond to questions about a “kidnap,” but said that lately his bosses were “very sensitive” about strangers coming to the compound.
In the days following Romero de Crespo’s abduction, rumors started to fly: that she had been abducted by a business associate; that she had been let go; that she was free in San Diego. But her mother, Georgina Serrano de Romero, told Zeta that none of the rumors were true.
“The information that someone she knew was the arranger of the kidnap is not accurate,” she said, speaking at the industrial park offices from which her daughter was taken. “We’re all praying for her return. We don’t blame anyone in particular. This is just the situation we live with in this country.”
Serrano de Romero also wanted to point out her family was not as rich as people thought. “Though it seems we own many properties, it’s not so,” she said. The Serrano family represents investors from various parts of the country who all want to realize “beneficial works for the Tijuanan community.”
Even if this turns out to be a “regular” kidnap, many have proved to be “improper abductions,” as local police call them.
Autosecuestro, self-kidnapping, is a scam in which a person becomes “victim” to an imagined kidnapper to collect on insurance or to evade debtors.The secuestro improprio happens when families refuse to pay a ransom and instead let the victim die so they can collect on the inheritance or insurance. The increasingly popular “secuestro express” involves a gang grabbing its victim and taking him or her to an ATM, forcing them to withdraw their maximum daily allowance. They hold their victims until midnight, when the machines reset, in order to withdraw more money. Abductors repeat the process until they deplete the victim’s account.
The FBI’s Gore says he doesn’t fear a plague of kidnappings crossing the border and infecting San Diego’s business community. However, he acknowledges that a lot of the Tijuana cases have cross-border connections. Thirty abductions over the last three years have had a cross-border dimension, some drug-related, some child-custody battles, and others to do with money.
Carlo Castillo, spokesman for the state attorney general’s office in Mexicali, claims a good success rate in the 29 kidnappings of 1998. All the victims returned home safely, he says, or the police rescued them, and police claim “more than 20 arrests” of kidnap-gang members.
Despite the successes, authorities believe some victims’ families avoid contacting them because the families possibly suspect police themselves of arranging abductions.
To combat the rising “industry” of kidnapping, Baja officials are contemplating some radical ideas, including acquiring the legal power to freeze victims’ accounts as soon as they have been abducted. That way kidnappers can’t gain access to their victim’s funds even if they’re willing to cooperate. Authorities have also hatched the idea of creating lists of potential targets of kidnappers — businessmen, usually — then monitoring them and educating them about counter-abduction measures. To implement this plan, they want to create a special unit to do the watching.
But the FBI’s Gore says as far as cross-border cooperation is concerned, some fundamental changes are needed, like securely scrambled radio communication on Mexican police channels that kidnappers can’t tune in to; and coordinated channels for better cross-border communication.
Last March at San Diego’s Naval Training Center, roughly 80 agents from eight law enforcement entities —Mexican and American — trained on how to handle cross-border kidnappings. Language problems, radio communications, and questions of turf surfaced immediately. Gore acknowledges that these difficulties, combined with many families’ refusals to involve the police, can make solving some kidnappings impossible.
Two weeks ago, many of Tijuana’s elite attended a Mass for Romero de Crespo in Tijuana. “Estoy rezando para que regrese mi hija,” said her mother, Georgina Serrano de Romero, later. “I am praying for the return of my daughter.”
About the same time, Monseñor Salvador Cisneros of the Autonomous University of Baja California, while recognizing the family’s desperate desire to recover their loved one at all cost, spoke out against allowing kidnapping to become an industry protected by its victims — and the media’s — silence. “Kidnapping will never cease,” he told Zeta, “if we play the kidnappers’ game. All silence, every ransom, rewards them.”
Last Thursday, after waiting a week to call Mr. Crespo back, a Reader reporter dialed his and his wife’s Coronado Cays telephone numbers. Each switched over to a recorded voice. “We’re sorry: you have reached a number that has been disconnected, or is no longer in service...”