Nearshore Americas

Making Sense of Mexico’s Crime

By Mike Barrett, CEO of Unosquare
I rummaged through the home filing cabinet to find my life insurance policy.  I’ve travelled around the world for business, from India to Australia to Canada, and never before dug out my life insurance policy before I left.  But this time was different.  I was travelling to the place that some call “kidnap capital of the world” – Mexico City.
I dusted off the manila folder and brought it to my wife the night before I left for the airport.  I told her who to call if I’m kidnapped and gave her the file.  Then I kissed her on the cheek and said something like, “Don’t worry, nothin’s gonna happen.”

“Sadly, I feel more unsafe walking the streets of Los Angeles or Houston than I do in Mexico”

Border Cities: Crime Zones
Mexico has indeed become a violent place to live and work for many.  The current administration, led by President Calderone, is waging a fierce battle against drug cartels and corrupt officials. For violent crime, the border cities are the most unsafe because the drug cartels have such a large presence there.  Mexico City, my destination on this last trip, is also unsafe because of the large amount of kidnappings that go unreported.  These “drive thru” kidnappings are popular with criminal gangs because they normally involve forcing the victim to withdraw large amounts of cash from an ATM.  To make things worse, most Mexican citizens do not trust the police in large cities like Mexico City, Juarez City, or Monterrey.  Therefore, many of these crimes go unreported.
But I live in this “Nearshore” world that you might live in.  I run a software consulting company with offices in Guadalajara and Portland, Oregon.  We have clients in the US and Mexico and I need to travel there every 4 – 6 weeks.  So I pay close attention to CNN when it reports, sometimes every night, on the latest violence in Mexico.  But after my last trip to Mexico City and Guadalajara, in fact, after two years of travelling constantly to Mexico for business, I realized that I don’t really see anything of concern.
I know bad things happen in Mexico, but I’ve never been assaulted and I’ve never felt unsafe myself.  I walk the streets alone.  I spend time at the local Starbucks or meeting with clients in a large outdoor restaurant, and I’ve never once felt threatened.  Sadly, I feel more unsafe walking the streets of Los Angeles or Houston than I do in Mexico. The reason?  My social and professional circles are almost completely isolated from the violence.  I don’t buy or sell drugs, I’m not a soldier, a policemen, or a corrupt businessman.  I’m not even loosely partnered with politicians or gangsters.
Americans are Not Targets
By comparison to the Offshore business models, Nearshore is much safer.  Going offshore sometimes requires business executives to visit places like India, Indonesia, or the Philippines, all locations where Americans have been specifically targeted by terrorists.  In those venues the criminal elements are fighting ideological wars that cause hotels to blow up.  Fortunately, for those of us working with Nearshore locations, there are no such groups targeting Americans, or Christians, or followers of the infamous “Bush Doctrine”, for that matter.
In my experience, Guadalajara is very safe.  The city has over 6 million people and some of the best technical universities in all of Latin America.  My business partners, for example, have been educated at Tech de Monterrey – one of the best.  They’ve worked in the US and Mexico for companies like Microsoft, IBM, and HP.  As a result, their English is excellent and they really understand the US business culture better than most coming in from Asia.  Furthermore, Guadalajara happens to be one of the safest large cities in the world. I regularly walk from my hotel to the Starbucks, and on down the street by myself and nobody gives me a second glance.
Rewards Worth the Risk
Please understand that we are not naïve to the risks.  In any big city it’s always wise to know your surroundings and to be cautious.  But working with a Nearshore provider in Latin America is much, much different from working in Asia or Eastern Europe.  It defensibly more cost effective, easier to reach by plane, and will certainly bring us rewards well worth the risk.
Mike Barrett is the CEO of Unosquare, Inc with offices in Portland, Oregon and Guadalajara, Mexico.  He is a former  Sr. Business Development Manager for Tata Consultancy Services and the author of “The Danger Habit”, a book on the convergence of faith and risk published by Random House in 2007.  He lives in Oregon with his wife and four children. He would like to hear from you at

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  • Mike, I agree. I often tell clients that Mexico is no worse than turning down the wrong street in Los Angeles. The media tends to sensationalize the “war on drugs”, especially on slow news days. The reality is that most of the tier 1 players in Mexico who offer ITO or BPO services have their delivery centers far from these pockets of crime, primarily away from the border towns where the biggest offenses are committed. I appreciate the fresh perspective of your blog. Thanks!

  • Mike:
    Well done. I moved down here two years ago, also to start a near-shoring company. I own a home here, my kids go to school here, I bike back and forth to work, go out at nights, etc. etc. etc. So far, I have to agree with you that I feel safer here than in the US.
    However, feelings can be deceiving so I did a little digging in the stats. Check out my blog post…. In a nutshell, you're 5 times more likely to be a victim of gun violence in the US than in Mexico!