Border Violence Leads to Armor-Plated Vehicles

Michelle Roberts, AP, March 4, 2009

The drug violence in Mexico has gotten so bad that booming numbers of Mexican and American professionals are having their cars fitted with armor plates, bulletproof glass and James Bond-style gadgets such as electrified door handles and push-button smokescreens.

Until recently, it was mostly movie stars, business moguls and politicians who took such precautions. But now, industry officials say, the customers include factory owners, doctors, newspaper publishers and others who have business on both sides of the border and fear killings, kidnappings and carjackings by drug dealers or people in their debt.

The customers “don’t have to be very big,” said Mark Burton, CEO of International Armoring Corp. of Ogden, Utah. “This becomes almost a necessity.”

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The modifications typically cost $80,000 to $100,000, and they are being done not just on limousines, but on Toyotas, Hondas, pickup trucks and SUVs.

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The war between Mexican authorities and the country’s cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine cartels has killed 1,000 people so far this year. Last year, Juarez alone had more than 1,100 slayings. The cartels have killed police, military officers and civilians from Cancun to Tijuana as they battle for control of drug-trafficking corridors.

Customers get not only armor plating but tires that will run when flat and bulletproof glass, which bursts into a spider web pattern but won’t break, even when shot with an AR-15 assault rifle, a weapon of choice among drug smugglers.

Other customers buy a package that will turn a Ford F-150 pickup or SUV into something out of a Batman movie: A button releases a cloud of white smoke for escaping a pursuing car. If the assailant makes it through that, the driver can release spikes to flatten the pursuer’s tires. And finally, if the attacker makes it to the car, electrified door handles can give him a non-lethal jolt.

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Companies that install bulletproofing–or “blindaje” in Spanish–have been doing a booming business in Mexico, too. But some businessmen, like the Juarez factory owner, who lives in the United States, are convinced the armoring is better in the U.S.

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Texas Armoring, which started in the 1970s armoring limousines and other vehicles for world leaders, did about 100 cars last year and expects to complete 150 this year, Kimball [Trent Kimball, CEO of San Antonio-based Texas Armoring Corp.] said.

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