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'Every day, there are more and more kidnappings'

  • Story Highlights
  • Kidnappings jump 76 percent for 2008, according to Mexico City prosecutor's office
  • Experts say the rise is a result of crimes going unpunished
  • "Violence will keep increasing," security consultant says
  • Kidnapping and killing of a 14-year-old boy sparks outrage, civilians plan protest
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From Harris Whitbeck
CNN
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MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) -- Pedro Galindo says that when his kidnappers chopped off one of his fingers, the pain was excruciating; he felt every second of the process.

Pedro Galindo had four fingers chopped off by kidnappers. He's now pressing authorities to crack down.

The kidnapping and killing of 14-year-old Fernando Marti has prompted calls for the Mexican government to act.

"They injected an anesthetic but didn't wait long enough for it to take effect," he says. "The next week, their boss came to me and said, 'Your family still doesn't want to pay ransom, so we have to send them another one.' "

Pedro's wife, Maria Elena Morera, still shudders when she recalls being told where she could find her husband's severed finger. She was told to pick it up on the side of the road in an envelope.

"I felt my heart just ripped open," she said. "I can't describe the anguish I felt imagining Pedro's suffering." Video Watch snatchings off the street in broad daylight »

Pedro was rescued by federal agents from his kidnappers after 29 days, but not before three more fingers were chopped off at the knuckles. Seven years later, he and his wife devote their time to Mexicans United Against Crime, a citizen's group that tries to pressure the Mexican government into doing more to stop kidnappings.

The group organized a march of tens of thousands of people in Mexico City in 2004 to protest the lack of security and is leading the charge again this year. It also provides moral support and advice to families whose loved ones have been kidnapped.

Mexico has seen an unprecedented level of kidnappings this year, prompting outrage among residents and demands for the government to crack down, even if it means going after police thought to be carrying out some of the kidnappings.

According to the Mexico City prosecutor's office, kidnappings rose 76 percent in the first four months of the year compared with last year. Mexicans United Against Crime, citing police figures, says there were 789 kidnappings in 2007.

Authorities think the real figures may be even greater because victims won't report crimes to a police force they don't trust. Experts say the rise is also a result of the perceived sense that crimes go unpunished here.

"Violence will keep increasing to the extent that [Mexican law enforcement] doesn't take away the attraction of committing a crime," said Eduardo Buscaglia, a security consultant in the region.

The tipping point to the kidnappings was the snatching in plain daylight of 14-year-old Fernando Marti, the son of a prominent businessman. He was grabbed from a car on a busy street at a fake police checkpoint. The next day, his chauffeur and bodyguard were found bound and strangled in the trunk of a car. Next to their bodies, police found a yellow chrysanthemum, a calling card from a gang that calls itself the Band of Flowers.

Some investigators think the flower was a message to police, telling them not to investigate too closely, that the kidnappers are police, too.

But there was no sign of the boy. His family hired a private investigator and paid a ransom reportedly in the millions. Then, two weeks ago, the teen's decomposed and bullet-ridden body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car.

Two police officers and one civilian have been taken into custody, accused of involvement in the kidnapping and killing.

"The media and society as a whole has finally recognized that there is a problem," said Juan Francisco Torres Landa, an attorney with Mexicans United Against Crime. "We can't tolerate any more of this level of impunity and criminal activities."

He says the government effectively prosecutes only one or two crimes out of 100, so the message to organized crime is, "it really pays to commit crimes."

In recent days, tens of thousands of citizens have begun rallying on the Internet, urging for protests to be carried out against the government on September 6 in multiple cities.

"It's criminals who should be afraid. It's the bad politicians who should be afraid. It's the judges who set these MURDERERS free, the ones who should be afraid. It's the corrupt police officers who should be afraid. NOT US," one user wrote on a Facebook page calling for the rally.

"We want a specific political accord between the president and all 32 governors of Mexico to commit to reducing the rates of kidnapping in Mexico," said Maria Elena Galindo of Mexicans United Against Crime.

Federal and city prosecutors announced the creation Monday of a special nationwide task force to deal with kidnappings.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon called for life sentences for police officers involved in kidnappings. Mexico City's mayor said a $10 million reward fund has been established in which citizens who provide information that leads to an arrest can receive up to $50,000. The mayor's office also said it will scrap its old detective unit for a new investigative branch.

Some say the government's effort falls far short.

"The state is not dismantling organized crime groups through the confiscation of assets, freezing of assets of the financial intelligence unit and is not cooperating with police and prosecutors effectively," said Buscaglia, the security consultant.

One college student, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed, said two police cars recently blocked his path as he drove home from a party. He says some men tried to grab him from his car, but he escaped. The incident took place not long after his brother had been abducted and held for several weeks.

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Pedro Galindo says he will never give up the fight, that he knows firsthand what it was like to be kidnapped. In his case, his kidnappers were eventually captured, but he says it took years for justice.

"I feel very angry," he said of the current crisis, "because nothing much has been done. Every day, there are more and more kidnappings, and everybody is affected."

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