American Kidnapping Negotiator Abducted in Mexico

By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

MEXICO CITY, Dec. 15 -- An American anti-kidnapping negotiator, whose company says he has resolved almost 100 kidnapping cases in Latin America, was abducted by gunmen last week -- while meeting with Mexican business executives and their bodyguards to discuss ways to thwart such crimes.

The abduction of Felix Batista was bold and chilling, and the report of his disappearance, which hit the news media here Monday morning, had Mexicans wondering whether anyone was safe.

"This kidnapping is as serious as any other kidnapping in Mexico, where, according to official statistics, two people are kidnapped every day," said MarĂ­a Elena Morera, president of Mexicans United Against Crime. Independent watchdog groups in Mexico estimate that there are as many as 500 kidnappings a month in the country, most never reported because families choose to privately negotiate ransoms without help from police officers, who are often involved in kidnapping crews.

According to his employers, Batista, who is based in Miami, is a longtime "response consultant" with more than 20 years in the kidnapping and ransom business, or "K&R," as global security firms commonly call it.

Batista, who is high-profile enough to have been quoted in newspaper articles, was snatched outside a restaurant in Saltillo, a relatively peaceful mid-size city in northeast Mexico famous for its clay tiles. Batista was there to present lectures to area business leaders about kidnapping risks and prevention. According to officials and local news accounts, he had given a lecture in Torreon on Dec. 4, and he met with law enforcement officials with the Coahuila state office of public security.

On Wednesday, Batista was dining with a local businessman at the upscale restaurant El Principal in Saltillo when he stepped outside to take a cellphone call. There at the curb, he was hustled into a white sport-utility vehicle by armed men and driven away, according to police and news accounts.

Batista works as a consultant for ASI Global, a Houston-based security firm, which, according to its Web site, "provides a portfolio of crisis management, prevention and pre-incident services to private clients and families, financial institutions and major corporations worldwide" using a team of K&R response consultants who are "the very best minds in the business." Their specialties include the recovery of pirated ships and their crews; extraction from conflict areas; and winning release from airplane hijackings, kidnappings and illegal arrests.

ASI Global President Charlie LeBlanc said Batista was in Mexico on his own presenting lectures. "We have notified the FBI and Mexican authorities, and they are working the case," LeBlanc said. He declined to say whether a ransom request had been received. In a statement, LeBlanc added that "ASI and Felix's family are working with friends and associates of Felix and the appropriate authorities to secure his release."

The U.S. Embassy declined to comment, as is customary in kidnapping cases. The State Department has issued travel alerts for Americans visiting Mexico, urging them to take safety precautions. Although U.S. business executives and Mexican Americans who live in Mexico have been targeted for kidnapping, business visitors and tourists generally have not.

In a recent article from the McClatchy News Service, Batista was quoted speaking of the growing risks of kidnapping by members of drug trafficking cartels. "The narco-kidnappers are not looking for chump change," he said. "It's a pretty darn good side business."

Law enforcement officials in Saltillo and members of the local media, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were concerned about their own security, said that the motives for Batista's abduction are unknown but that he could have fallen victim to drug cartels or a kidnapping gang that wanted ransom, information or revenge.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company