U.S. security consultant John Baird said his family was robbed in late 2008 for the first time in the six years he has lived in Mexico. "2009 is going to be very difficult" because of rising violence and unemployment here, he added.
"I think we're just going to have to hunker down," said Baird, general manager of the Mexico office of the Dublin, Ireland-based security company FreightWatch Group.
He said there have been problems both with drugs stowed in freight shipments and with the army checkpoints posted to detect the drugs.
One popular highway shipping route to the U.S. border now has eight or nine army checkpoints on it. Given that checkpoints sometimes damage or delay shipments, Baird now advises U.S. companies to use another highway - one that doesn't pass through the states of northwestern Mexico where drug cartels are battling for smuggling routes and against security forces.
Xochitl Diaz, a spokesman of Michigan-based auto parts manufacturer Delphi Corp., said one of the company's U.S. executives escaped an attack in the border city of Ciudad Juarez in January.
A car chased the U.S. woman, cut her off, and a man carrying a pistol got out and banged on the window of her car with the butt of the gun. The woman managed to speed off in her car and made it to the plant.
"We are asking employees to travel in daylight to the extent that they can," Diaz said. "We are asking them to be extra cautious and to travel wherever possible in groups."
Alberto Zapanta, the president of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said the drug-related violence that cost over 6,000 lives in 2008 "is not pervasive, it's not all over the country, it's along the border ... there are kind of hotspots."
But Zapanta added, "I'm not out wandering around like I used to do." Instead, he uses secure limousines to travel from airports to hotels.
While Mexico's drug cartels don't appear to be targeting foreigners specifically, there is a problem with common criminals taking advantage of the atmosphere of fear created by the drug conflict to extort money or demand protection payments from companies, Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont told a meeting of business people in Mexico City.
"Based on the climate of terror that exists, a bunch of smart guys are simulating extortions or saying they have ties to organized crime, to scare people," Gomez Mont said.
"In most cases, they don't come from organizations that are capable of inflicting harm," he told the executives. "They are using a strategy of taking advantage of disorder."
Companies in Mexico have reported a rising wave of such extortions, but Gomez Mont told executives not to pay such demands.