SAFE TRANSPORT IN REYNOSA
There is a great deal of good information out there on Doing Business in Reynosa, but how you move around safely in Reynosa is a different matter. Whether you are trying to do an airport transfer from McAllen International airport to a facility in Reynosa or you need more complex journey management, there are mutliple variables to consider when traveling to such a complicated city.
Ask 20 different security consultants how to move around safely in Reynosa, Mexico and you will hear “it depends” 20 times. The 19 professional ones will want to know a great deal about your trip plans to properly scope your trip and the one less professional of the bunch will tell you tell you what he thinks you need based on what he thinks he can deliver.
So why is the answer “it depends”? After all, places that are seemingly more dangerous like Iraq have very well-defined norms for how secure transportation looks. For years, American visitors to Iraq received a standard ground transportation package of three armored vehicles with an armed driver and armed security agent. Companies would vary in whether they would go down to two vehicles or require four depending on multiple factors, but the typical configuration was three vehicles.
But Mexico is more complicated in some ways than Iraq and the border cities like Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, or Nuevo Laredo have very unique risks that make them impossible to compare to an Iraq or Afghanistan. And while people can argue which city has the more dangerous threat and talk all night about cartel violence versus terrorist violence, the risk is higher in Reynosa because visitors are typically less protected.
Video: Gulf Cartel Gunmen in Reynosa
Note - this video is not violent! Very short video that shows members of the Gulf Cartel outside the house of a rival. To people not familiar with Reynosa the startling aspect of the video is the calmness of the gunmen. These are not people who are concerned about consequences.
Gulf Cartel Gunmen in Reynosa
But wait, how is that possible? Iraq was the focus of multi-year military campaign and gripped by another conflict with ISIS. And Mexico is a tourist destination with literally 29 million American investors every year, and thousands of Americans business operating there.
Risk is a function of numerous factors but while people may disagree on exact definitions there is wide consensus that risk is a function of likelihood of something undesirable happening and how vulnerable you are to that risk. You can’t separate likelihood from vulnerability. You could put Super Man in the middle of a Gulf Cartel gunfight and he won’t be vulnerable whereas a careless tourist in just about any beach town (whether Cozumel or Cocoa Beach) is going to be vulnerable to getting their wallet stolen.
The issue in Reynosa is one of likelihood driven by chaos and increased vulnerability driven by restrictions in how you can move around. With various cartels fighting for control or Reynosa and the military trying to intervene, any crime, including murder, is not a priority. And while visitors to Reynosa or any other maquiladora town are not a primary target, one never knows when they are going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In terms of vulnerability, Iraq had a relatively formal way for security companies to operate, receive intelligence, and even receive support from coalition forces. Quick Reaction Forces or QRFs could surge to the aid of visitors and even conduct medevacs when people get hurt. Nothing like this exists in Reynosa. For these reasons, vulnerability was reduced to the point that terrorists and insurgents were less likely to target visitors escorted by security companies. Classic example of reduced vulnerability reducing the likelihood of something bad happening.
While there are trusted military units in Mexico, particularly the Mexican Navy, there is no agreement or process for working with the military. For this reason, security companies typically stress keeping a low profile and a correct profile. Low profile just means don’t stand out to invite attention. Blacked out town-cars or Mercedes traveling in a convoy practically yell out importance. In terms of correct profile, the idea here is to ensure that no one mistakes you for another cartel or the military.
Your profile doesn’t necessarily diminish your vulnerability, but it does diminish your attractiveness as a target (e.g. not looking like a rival cartel) and the likelihood that you will come in the cross-hairs of a criminal.
So what do reputable security companies do to support visitors? First, they prioritize having a low profile until a low-profile is no longer possible. Most companies will recommend an unarmored and “vanilla” sedan or mini-van (sorry Toyota Camry and Sienna mini-van owners) to be driven by a security expert who is trained in defensive driving. Additionally, the driver will be actively tracked and will be operating with most up-to-date intelligence. The company will insist on operating during day-light hours and many companies may even require a security agent to be in the car as well.
This profile described is low-profile. You don’t look like a VIP, cartel member, or member of the military. If the trip requires repeat visits, takes places over more than a few days, or requires being in Reynosa during darkness, many companies may require armed protection, armored vehicles, or chase vehicles. A mark of professional company is one that emphasizes scaling back your movements even if it reduces their fees. A responsible security expert will be concerned about the safety of his team in addition to that of the client.
All of this sounds rather ominous. After all, many people go in and out of Reynosa every day and are safe. You can get in a rental car and drive to maquiladora and in all probability, you will be fine. This is the wrong way to evaluate risk. Rather you should consider that the situation is extremely dynamic and the patch of dirt can go from perfectly safe to extremely dangerous due to factors that are completely unpredictable.