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A Look at Kidnapping, Trust and Employer Employee Relationships in Mexico City Households


Rolando Ochoa
Department of Sociology St. Antonys College University of Oxford

Work in progress for discussion only, please do not cite or circulate.

Abstract This paper presents preliminary evidence on the effect of kidnapping on relationships based on trust, namely those between household members and their employees, in Mexico City. Most of these relationships are of an informal (relations-based) nature and data shows that kidnapping is organized mostly by people in close contact with the victim (employees and family). This, coupled with high impunity and high crime rates makes the decision to hire someone a very delicate one. Based on extensive qualitative research carried out in Mexico City this paper presents, first, a digested account of the evolution of kidnapping in Mexico City with details on how it has become a crime that has democratized and now affects a large sector of the population as opposed to its typical wealthy victims. Second, drawing from theories of trust, signalling and private protection this paper begins to address some of the mechanisms which people use to determine whether to trust someone or not, based on the example of household employees. As a tentative conclusion I assert that the evolution of kidnapping (and crime in general) has meant that relationships based on trust have become strained and that the mechanisms used for the establishment of trust have also become more and more complex as people seek to attain the highest levels of protection.

Prepared for delivery at the 2009 Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil June 11-14, 2009

1. Introduction Over the last decade crime has become one of the most salient social phenomena in Mexico (for examples of this see: Mitofski 2005; Chambre Franco-Mexicaine de Commerce et d'Industrie 2004; Jimenez Ornelas 2000). The presence of powerful drug cartels, high poverty and inequality and a weak rule of law have contributed to a monumental increase in the countrys crime rates (Davis 2006:61: Magaloni and Zepeda, 2004; Bergaman, 2003). Among the many crimes that affect citizens one stands out as the most commented and feared: kidnapping. Studies show that Mexico is in the top three countries worldwide where kidnapping is more common (Briggs, 2002). In 2007 there were 112 kidnappings reported to the authorities in Mexico City alone (El Universal, 2008). Once the sole scourge of the wealthy, recent evidence indicates that kidnapping has been democratized and now affects large sectors of the middle and working classes (PGJDF, 2007). It is this fact that is at the centre of this research note. Thus, I aim to present a macro-micro analysis (Coleman, 1986) that will shed light on 1) the changing dynamics of kidnapping in Mexico City and the structural factors that enable it, 2) the impact of this phenomenon on relationships based on trust and 3) the mechanisms that the inhabitants of Mexico City use to protect themselves from crime and kidnapping in particular. To achieve this I will address the following sociological puzzle: why have wealthy people in Mexico City been bypassed as ideal victims of kidnapping in favour of middle and working class victims? This question arises due to the counter intuitive fact that wealthy people would be ideal victims of this crime; however recent evidence points towards the opposite. A possible explanation could be that this particular social class has implemented successful informal protection strategies, which coupled with the dynamics of the crime itself, have allowed them to avoid victimization much more successfully than working and middle class people. In order to feasibly address this puzzle, I will present preliminary evidence on the mechanisms upper-middle and upper class people in Mexico City use to assess the threat of kidnapping with special reference to their relationships with their household employees. This relationship is important when we know that around 70% of kidnappings in Mexico are planned or facilitated by either a member of the victims family or a close employee (PGR, 2008). To achieve this goal, I will use the product of over a year of in-depth qualitative fieldwork in one of the Citys 16 districts that due to its historical crime rates and socioeconomic composition makes for an ideal ground for the deciphering of this puzzle. The research was based mostly on in depth interviews with employers and employees, kidnapping victims and their employees, law enforcement officials at all levels, security experts and also the gathering of secondary evidence and data such as news reports, NGOs documents among others. It is hoped that this paper will contribute to existing literature on crime, trust and protection in the following ways. First, the empirical study of kidnapping in Mexico City sheds light on the nuts and bolts of this particular crime, as well as the environmental and institutional factors that make it such a prevalent event. Second, it seeks to uncover the specific mechanisms that people use to protect themselves from criminals in a situation where the government does not fully provide this protection. This point is of fundamental importance as it helps us understand what happens in a context where citizens

protection, a governments most important task, is left unattended. Third, it seeks to explore how people of different social class interact and how decisions of household employment between the employer and the employee are made, specifically how employers screen their employees for the properties of trustworthiness and loyalty and how prospective employees signal that they possess these properties. The district that is the main focus (albeit not the only one) of this research, Miguel Hidalgo, is located in the northwestern edge of the city. It covers an area of 42.99 km and is composed of 95 colonias or neighbourhoods (INEGI, 2005) and has a population of 353,534 (INEGI, 2008). This district is one of the richest ones in the country and houses a large proportion of the citys economic elite; it is also home to many poor neighbourhoods, sometimes only separated by a few streets. It is virtually (although not formally) divided in a wealthy southern side and a working-class northern end. Both sides have pockets of middle class neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood of Polanco, in the southern end is known for its world class restaurants, bars and designer shops that line the wide, tree lined streets of its south-west side. It is also a high class residential area that began developing in the late 1930s and has been since home to very wealthy people. Most old houses, once the majority of the buildings there, have been or are now being replaced with very expensive, super-safe condos. Security is such a salient issue in this neighbourhood that in a survey of 33 buildings during fieldwork, it was found that all but 5 boasted private security as a matter of course. Most news adverts for the sale of flats and houses here also mention the security arrangements for the building in question. On the other side of the district, a mere two kilometres north of Polanco are a number of neighbourhoods such as Popotla, Argentina Poniente and Tacuba. These are mostly working class areas, some of which are very old and most have high crime rates (District Government, 2008). In the words of a city official those are warrior neighbourhoods (Interview, 2008). The socioeconomic differences are very striking within this territory and are indicative of one of Mexicos greatest maladies, namely inequality. The images below give the reader a visual idea of this. In order to give an idea of the social and economic differences within the district it is useful to look at property values. A two bedroom flat will cost upwards of $500,000USD in the neighbourhood of Polanco while in the Pensil Sur, barely two kilometres north, the most expensive ones sell for around $30,000USD. The qualitative research for this project was carried out in Mexico City throughout 2008 and consisted on a large number of open interviews with kidnapping victims, non victims, and employees as well as long term observations and interviews with law enforcement officials at all levels. These included district attorneys, policemen/women, crime victims, crime investigators and other policing actors. A database of ten years (1998-2008) of national level news reports from 2 national newspapers is also under construction for these same purposes. 2. Theoretical Tools The literature on trust gives us a good framework for the analysis of the relationships I have mentioned in the introduction to this paper. As Seligman points out the existence of trust is an essential component of all enduring social relationships (1997: 13). This is

even more so in the case of Mexico. Most of the relationships I will analyse are part of an informal relation-based economic system (Dixit, 2004), they are under no written contract and are shrouded in a limited rule of law (Magaloni and Zepeda, 2004). In this situation actors must use diverse mechanisms in order to establish, and maintain, cooperative relationships. The establishment of trust among actors before entering into a relationship is one such vital mechanism. Trust has been pointed out repeatedly as one of the key mechanisms for the better functioning of society both at the interpersonal and social levels (Seligman, 1997; Sztompka, 1999). Most relationships must be cemented in some form of trust lest they become costly situations that can only be maintained by third-party enforcers (Seligman, 1997: 4). It has, because of this, been discussed and analysed from many academic fronts like anthropology, economics and sociology and using very varied tools of analysis such as rational choice and culturalist approaches among others (Sztompka, 1999: 1). In line with Gambetta (2000: 4) I understand trust to mean: A particular level of the subjective probability with which an agent assesses that another agent or group of agents will perform a particular action, both before he can monitor such action (or independently of his capacity ever to be able to monitor it) and in a context in which it affects his own action. A key component of trust is uncertainty about other peoples behaviours. It is related to the limits of our capacity ever to achieve a full knowledge of others, their motives, their responses to endogenous as well exogenous changes (Gambetta, 2000: 4). If actors could achieve full knowledge of the true intentions of other agents and could base their decisions on this knowledge, trust would be rendered mostly useless. Because full information is rarely (if ever) achieved in interpersonal relationships trust plays a key role in the success or failure of these relationships. Vulnerability refers to the fact that, in a relationship, agents are to an extent free to defect upon or betray the other actor/s. The less constrained actors are, the more freedom they have to betray. Informal relationships not based on a contract and in an environment of low law enforcement have a high degree of freedom to act. In this situation trust is needed to a high degree (Gambetta, 2000). Trust allows us to make sense of otherwise uncertain situations. Actors planning on entering into a relationship (contractual or not) must first go through a decision making process in which they establish the trustworthiness of the other actor and decide whether to engage with him/her or not at all. Actor A (the truster) must be sufficiently assured that B (the trustee) will perform the tasks he/she is advertising or promising; in other words A must trust B, based on information he has on both their payoffs for the interaction. In order to achieve this, actors must solve primary and secondary trust problems (Bacharach and Gambetta, 1997). First, the actors must establish which trust warranting properties are valid for this particular interaction. These properties are any property (or combination of properties) of a trustee in a basic trust game which suffices for him to be trustworthy (Bacharach and Gambetta, 1997: 7). We must assume that the truster in the relationship knows what properties signal trustworthiness. Good communication between actors is a very important part of this

interaction (Good, 2000). In the specific case of the relationships described in this paper the employer must know what properties to look for when deciding to hire a prospective employee. Some of these properties might be for example, a clean drivers licence, no criminal records, good health and freedom from addictions as well as other less tangible ones such as punctuality, discretion and efficiency. A recommendation from a close acquaintance can be an example of a guarantee of these properties. It is important to mention that some of these qualities are not easily observable and sometimes can only be established after the person has been hired. There are two ways to solve this problem that I have previously observed 1) there is a protracted hiring process that may last up to a month which includes many interviews with different people, this can serve to look for observable traits such as punctuality and seriousness of the candidate. 2) Once hired there is a trial period in which the new driver is relegated to perform secondary activities that do not necessarily involve driving anyone or carrying out important tasks. These activities include doing household chores, taking cars to maintenance, or simply being present while other people or other employees do menial jobs. He rarely has contact with the family during this period. This minimizes the amount of information he can gather. Until he has proven that he is reliable, efficient, very helpful and discreet by both family members but also, very importantly, other trustworthy employees, he can then start carrying out more important tasks, this process may take many weeks. Once trustworthy properties have been observed the secondary problem arises. The truster must establish whether those properties on display by the trustee are to be trusted as real. As these properties can be observable or not (Bacharach and Gambetta, 1997) it is possible for an actor to copy or mimic those properties to pass off as the real thing in order to obtain instant, raw payoffs. Bacharach and Gambetta call this person an opportunist (1997: 10, also see Gambetta and Hamill, 2005). In order to discern mimics from non-mimics, trusters must carefully analyse and weight the special properties, as seen through signs (Gambetta and Hamill, 2005) that trustees display. Costly signs will be hard to copy and will therefore have a higher value for the truster. Personal traits such as gender and race are virtually impossible to copy, others such as dress style will be easier. In the specific case that concerns us, a verbal recommendation about an employee from a close friend or family member is virtually impossible to mimic, a written letter from a stranger is not, and is therefore basically worthless. A worthy letter will only be presented when the writer knows the prospective employee personally and knows for a fact that he is reliable, punctual and discreet. These cases are rare as many drivers do not leave their jobs easily (they may recommend others they know who might not be drivers) and most recommendations are verbal in nature. An example of this would be the following: When a wealthy person (W1) is in need of a driver/bodyguard he/she will contact someone in their close social network (W2) to enquire about it. W2 will then ask his/her trustworthy employee (E1) who might recommend a family member or acquaintance (E2). It is the sum of the good reputation of W2 and E1 that counts in this transaction. E1 would hardly recommend a defector and W2 trusts his/her employees recommendation enough to pass it on. While there is always a risk that the recommended person might be a fake this strategy assures that this risk is minimized. After this stage the hiring process described above begins proper. With the employer probing for the qualities he wants and the employer presenting such qualities. Enforcing this kind of

relationships is an important issue and one that usually falls within the realm of coercion or a credible threat thereof, however it falls short of being an adequate alternative to trust (Bacharach and Gambetta, 2000: 5). The threat of coercion solves the dilemma not by bringing trust in but rather by making it unnecessary. Trust becomes necessary when other mechanisms to ensure cooperation are not available. It is important to understand exactly what qualities an employer looks for in an employee and how exactly he/she can screen for them. It is also key to know how potential employees can present the qualities the employer wants. In Table 1 I present some ideal qualities that an employer might look for in a driver as well as what might signal this quality followed by the screening process for each. Table 2 presents the same scenario for the employee, what signs does he need to display to be hired. Table 1 Qualities, Signs and Screening Strategies for the Employer Quality Discretion Screening for it Very hard to establish, Keeping information relies heavily on secure by not divulging it. recommendations and repeated interaction. Completing tasks fast and Can be screened for only without involving many during test period. people at low cost. Offering to do things in the household. Volunteering Only by observation for tasks. Must be of a certain age, Proof by observation and not too young (unreliable) papers not too old (unreliable) Certain physical appearance. Not too short, strong looking, muscular. On observation. Clean-cut. Also formal by wearing suit. Asking for childrens By communication and birth certificates, proof of official proof. marriage. Can be screened for Getting got places without during test period asking, knowing good through tasks, sending routes in the city. him off to pick things up etc Police files Check police files Sign





Family man

Knowledge of the City

No criminal record

Drivers Licence

A valid licence

Checking licence.

Table 2 Qualities, Signs and Presenting Strategies for the Employee Sign Presentation of Quality Being quiet, not gossipy, By staying quiet, not Discretion keeping information gossiping with other secure. employees. Completing tasks fast and By voicing knowledge of Efficiency without involving many how to carry out tasks. people at low cost. Offering to help in other Helpfulness chores and activities; being Attentiveness on their feet. By appearance and birth Physical characteristics, Age certificate. hard to fake. Wearing Suits, looking Wear suit, hard to fake Presence healthy and muscular. physical attributes. Childrens birth certificate, Family man Producing certificates. marriage certificate. By having no problems in By working knowledge Knowledge of the City getting to places. Doing of the city. tasks quickly. Produce clean police No criminal record Police files report. Drivers Licence Producing licence Present clean licence.


These lists are by no means complete but they seek to give an idea of what actors will be engaged in. The signs and attitudes listed might also be subject to mimicry, some to a greater extent than others, it is very difficult to pass off as a 35 year old if you are 60, but it might be easy to obtain, with the right connections, a clean police file. Using the analytical tools described above I expect to find that 1) employers will use a host of strategies to screen their employees for evidence of loyalty and that they will be good protectors of information such as hiring through personal networks, hiring members of the same family and of the same neighbourhood, namely those nearby; 2) potential drivers will use strategies to ensure the best employment possible such as working to establish their reputation for being discreet and establishing family links to other household employees. While the quantity and quality of the literature on crime and kidnapping has been increasing in Mexico, especially in the last few years, a study such as this one contributes to the study of the micro consequences of macro processes such as crime and a weak rule of law. Studies of how individuals protect themselves from crime in Mexico are also rare (an exception being for example Rotker 2000). By the same token large developing urban centres such as Mexico City have very specific socioeconomic, institutional and geographical characteristics and thus provide a unique testing ground for theories on the formation of relationships based on trust and (private) protection.

3. Kidnapping in Mexico, a Very Brief History. Mexico City is the capital of Mexico. It is the seat of the federal government and also the largest urban centre in the country. The countrys population in 2005 (the last census available) was 103 million and the citys was 8.7 million, a figure that climbs to around 21 million people in total when the greater Mexico City area is taken into account (INEGI, 2005). The urban landscape of Mexico City is spread out over an area of 1,485 kms. Its 16 districts are very different in both population size and geographical dimensions, for example the Cuajimalpa district has 173,625 inhabitants while Iztapalapa, the poorest district and the one with the highest kidnapping rate, has the largest population in the city counting 1,820,888 people (INEGI, 2008). For over ten years, crime in Mexico has been a core preoccupation for its inhabitants and a reality that has today become ever more present. Since 1994, a crime wave fuelled by an economic crisis took over the country; as it started abating in the early 2000s the government decided to take on the powerful drug cartels. This has produced, especially in the last two years, a wave of violence not seen since the Revolution of 1910. Mexico City has followed the same trend. The City is the second entity in Mexico in terms of incidence of crime with 19,663 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2005 (ICESI, 2005). In 2007 that number raises to 25,700 which places it in the first spot in terms of crime

incidence in the country (ICESI, 2008). By the same token data shows that local authorities have been unable to deal with this crime wave. As it stands only 3% of crimes reported ever make it to a court resulting in very high impunity, close to 98% (Magaloni and Zepeda, 2004; SEDESOL, 2007). The crime problem is twinned and increased with the current war on drugs happening throughout the country. The drug trade and violence levels in the country are heavily interconnected (Velazco, 2006). Since the late 90s Mexican drug cartels have become extremely powerful in both the economic and political arenas, extending their networks of corruption to the highest levels of government. In 2008, the Director of the Federal Police was forced to resign and is under investigation under corruption charges since he was receiving as much as USD$450,000 a month in bribes from cartels looking for protection (Dresser, 2009). As far back as the late 80s Reuter and Rondfeldt (1992) estimated that the drug trade gave Mexican drug traffickers an income of between $2,800 and $7,200 million US dollars yearly. This was equivalent to between 1.6% and 4.3% of the national GDP. The governments attempt to reduce the influence and power of these criminal organizations has produced not just violence but has also opened the door for other groups, better organized or not, to compete for the spoils of the criminal world. This has resulted in high levels of violence and an overall increase in violent crime rates. In 2008 a national newspaper registered in its executometer- a section that counts the number of people killed in organized crime activities such as revenge executions, shoot outs between gangs or between gangs and police/army etc. - 5,207 dead people. In the first three months of 2009, there were 1,493 such killings in the country (Reforma, 2009). While these take place mostly in northern states, they have affected Mexico City. In 2008 the same news source counts 138 executions in the City (Reforma, 2009). The overall criminal environment is also affected by this increase in organized-crime related activity, as the government uses its scant resources to fight organized crime, it opens the door for other actors to enter into criminal activity. As Toro (1995) argues the Procuraduria General de la Republica has basically become an anti-drug agency. As we have seen current research shows that the inhabitants of Mexico and of its capital city in particular live with high levels of crime and impunity. Among the many kinds of crime that affect citizens kidnapping stands out as one of the most feared. Historically, when this crime was less common, it targeted the wealthier members of society and seldom affected other socioeconomic classes (PGJDF, 2008). One would expect that this class would be targeted given their capacity to pay large ransoms. Wealthy people positioned in the upper middle class and above would be ideal kidnapping victims as the payoffs for the crime would be high, especially when there is a low risk of being caught. This sector of Mexican society has also the significant added risk of having many household employees, mostly from a working class background, such as drivers and domestic staff. These workers have access to privileged information that potential kidnappers might find very useful. It can be said then that their employers would be the group most likely to suffer from this particular kind of crime. An employee might use his or her information, or have the information coerced out of him or her in a process that would result in a kidnapping. Although this would appear logical, today in Mexico City it is actually the middle class and lower middle class that appear to be targeted most by this crime in recent times. For example, the three districts with the highest kidnapping rates per 100,000 people in the city are classified as middle class and below (Nilas, 2007). This

presents an anomaly that requires careful consideration. Mexico has the second highest rate of kidnapping in Latin America, only behind Colombia. This places Mexico in the top three nations worldwide for this kind of crime (Briggs, 2002:1). Table 3 shows the number of kidnappings reported to the authorities in Mexico City during the period 1997-2006. When compared to other regions in the country in absolute terms Mexico City has the highest rate of kidnapping in the country. With a population of approximately 9 million however, its rate per 100,000 inhabitants is not the highest. This being said, it is important to remember this kind of crime is frequently under-reported. While it is improbable to ever know the exact number of kidnappings that occur it is reasonable to assume it is higher than what is reported in the official figures. The extensiveness of this crime and the fear it generates in the life of Mexican city dwellers generates considerable inquiry into its nature. Who are its victims? What kind of protection do they use? Why are they chosen? These are but a few examples of the kind of questions this research seeks to address.

Year Kidn appin gs

Table 3 Kidnappings Reported to the Authorities in Mexico City 1997-2007 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 22 66 120 141 148 144 136 145 103 92

2007 112

Source: ICESI, 2006, El Universal 20007

While in the past most victims of kidnapping belonged to the highest social strata, today this trend has changed and now the most common victims of kidnapping are middle and working class (PGJDF, 2007). The districts of Mexico City with the highest kidnapping rates are the distinctly working class Iztapalapa and the middle class districts of Coyoacan and Tlalpan. The wealthiest district, Miguel Hidalgo, has the second lowest rate of all 16 districts (PGJDF, 2007). It seems that wealthy people from the upper middle class and above, the ideal victims, who can pay substantial ransoms, have been relatively successful at avoiding this particular type of crime. Two possible objections to this puzzle arise. First, that the higher kidnapping rates in Iztapapalapa are a function of its population size. This may be addressed by looking at the numbers of kidnapping as a percentage of the districts population. As the numbers of kidnappings are low these percentages tend to be very small, for Iztapalapa in 2007 it amounts to 0.002% of the population. For Miguel Hidalgo in the same year it amounts to 0.0003%. In order to visualize this better the number of kidnappings for every 100,000 people can be calculated. These figures tell us much more as they show that the kidnapping rate in the working class district is significantly higher. Table 4 shows this important difference from the data available by district. Although the total for the city in 2007 is higher, information at the district level is limited, however I believe it is useful to give evidence

of a real pattern. Second, it could be argues that kidnappings have motives other than ransom which would compromise the puzzle above. Although some kidnappings have further motives of revenge for example (El Universal, 2000) most secondary and primary sources agree that this is a business and that most kidnappings do happen for ransom (see for example El Universal, 27 November 1999).

Table 4 Kidnappings for every 100,000 People Kidnappings for every % of Total Kidnappings, District 100,000 people 2007 Miguel Hidalgo (upper 0.2 0.67 (1) class) Iztapalapa (working class) 1.7 20.77 (31)

Previous research has pointed to some possible answers to the puzzle presented here. First, the socio-geographical composition of Mexico City allows for working class and wealthy communities to share relatively small physical spaces. This has generated a unique environment in which different social classes interact with each other, on significant levels, on a daily basis (Ochoa, 2006). As opposed to their North American counterparts, Latin American cities are characterized by close physical proximity between social groups of different socioeconomic status. In other words, cities are not spaced in concentric circles with the poor inner city having little contact with the wealthier suburbs; to the contrary one finds that very rich communities coexist in physical proximity to poor communities (Rotker, 2002; Marques and Torres, 2005). An early lead was that evidence gathered in Mexico City points to the extensive use of social networks by both employers and employees as an information gathering mechanism. On the side of the employees, a solid family reputation seems to go a long way in guaranteeing employment. These and other strategies such as hiring many members of the same family need to be explored fully. On the side of the crime itself, there are a number of possible stories that could explain this shift in the victimization patterns of kidnapping. On the one hand most large-scale, organized kidnapping gangs have been dismantled. In the 1990s and early 2000s the police took it upon themselves to attack a number of these gangs. Some of the most feared criminals were caught in the space of a few years. The infamous Caletri gang was almost fully apprehended in 1994, for example. This particular gang engaged in well organized kidnappings and held a near monopoly on kidnappings in and around the city. Competition from other gangs as well as coordinated prosecution was the downfall of this particular criminal gang (El Universal, 23 february, 2000). The same can be said of many of the other well organized kidnapping gangs that existed in the same period. By 20012002 most of these gangs were no longer operational. In an article, Cansino (2001) argues that:

Contrary to the recent past, criminal activity is no longer controlled by a handful of groups. It has now fragmented and small cells of delinquents, in collusion with government officials or former police officers, are multiplying. This new form of operation of criminals complicates the task for the federal authorities, who are seeing themselves surpassed by their task to prosecute crimes. The void produced by these gangs was soon filled with smaller, younger and less experienced gangs that carried out poorly planned kidnappings, as was pointed out in a report by the General Directorate of Prevention and Social Re-adaptation of Mexico City in 2007 (El Universal, 18 October, 2007), this is the body in charge of penitentiaries in the City. This has created a dynamic that is very dangerous for the government. it success in fighting kidnapping gangs, coupled with its failure in strengthening the rule of law has actually created a scenario in which more people are being kidnapped with more casualties. In this environment citizens have had to adopt different strategies to handle the risk of being kidnapped, and more generally, of being victims of crime. Fear of crime has many consequences as has been argued for example by Skogan (1986) that may speed up processes of neighbourhood decline. This aspect of crime and violence deserves detailed research. 4. Why household employees? Many households in Mexico (and most of Latin America), employ a considerable number of people in diverse duties such as drivers, cleaning staff, cooks and nannies, some of which reside in the household. According to DeVos (1987: 515) around 8% of households in Mexico City contained a household member who was not related to the household head, most of these are employees. Most people take good care when hiring an employee, be it a nanny in London or a driver in Mexico City. These types of employees are sometimes given very high responsibilities. They feed, transport and care for families and many times are responsible for the well being of children when their parents are working. This is clearly, in the best of times, an important decision. Mexico can very well be described as a relation based economy (Dixit, 2004). In this environment many activities, both social and economic (contracts, business etc..) are carried out outside of governments sight. Many labour relationships are based on informal, sometimes spoken contracts very difficult to enforce by any government agency. Brambilla and Cazzavillan (2008) define the informal sector as as all the income generating activities that are unregulated by institutions. Employer-employee relationships in households are a very good example of this. None of my respondents had a written contract with their employers/employees, or any desire to have one. All agreements are verbal and negotiations regarding wages, responsibilities and the like are carried out verbally between the parts involved. Most payments are given in cash and no taxes are paid on them. This kind of relationship is clearly very difficult to control for any government; the lack of tax records for them make it almost impossible for them to even know how many people are involved in this kind of work. The national statistics agency (INEGI) estimates that around 24% of the economically active population in Mexico is

employed in the informal sector. In this environment of informality and low government control, these informal relationships acquire a very important weight. A heavy presence of organized crime, a very weak rule of law, high inequality, corruption, a significant informal sector and overall high crime rates makes the decision to hire a person who will have access to sensitive family information a risky business at best. When we know, as mentioned earlier that a substantial number of kidnappings today are facilitated in some form by either family or close employees, we begin to understand the importance of choosing correctly and of displaying the right signals. The most common form of household employee in Mexico City is the cook/cleaner. This is always a female (in no case during fieldwork did I observe a male cook/cleaner, nor have I ever met one in my 33 years as a dweller of Mexico City) who is hired by the household to carry out tasks such as cooking for the family and the upkeep of the home, cleaning, washing etc. Until recently, drivers were only utilised by people belonging to higher social classes. Security and other factors, such as higher supply have made it more common. The practice of hiring a driver has now become quite prevalent for a sector of the population. Some lower-middle class families, for example, will even develop a long term relationship with a specific taxi driver who will effectively become their personal driver. Some less affluent households hire staff that only work for one or two days a week. The exact income levels of households that require/use drivers are not known but observation tells that most middle class families and above who are able to afford at least one employee may at some point hire a driver. These employees are, mostly, from a working class background and are commonly hired trough the employers social network, and they are then tested on a number of factors that establish whether or not they are to be trusted. Intuitively these relationships would seem to pose a further kidnapping risk as employees have access to sensitive information about their employers (their everyday whereabouts for instance and wealth) that potential kidnappers might pay handsomely for, or be willing to use violence to learn. Preliminary evidence shows that this is not always the case (ICESI, 2006). The employment arrangements upper-middle and upper class people have with their household employees seem to, at least, not place then in further danger of being kidnapped. How then, do employers and employers go about meeting each other and entering into a relationship based on trust? 5. Some Preliminary Evidence; The case of Families G and D. For the purposes of this paper I will look at the relationship between two families I interviewed. These two families have a long-standing relationship that spans two generations. This particular relationship exemplifies the mechanisms I have described above. As I have argued before employers and employees engage in a complex game during their relationship. This process starts when an employer begins seeking an employee for a position that we can denominate of trust or de confianza. The risk of crime makes this decision (the one to basically give access to very important information to a stranger) a sensitive and problematic one. This section of the paper seeks to give some preliminary evidence of the mechanisms people use to solve this problem, on the one hand to secure a good job and on the other to hire a trustworthy person, as experienced by two families.

One of the first mechanisms that employers will use in the process of employee selection is the extensive utilization of their social network to hunt for prospective employees. The use of this mechanism was present in all of the interviews carried out with employers. This mechanism is many times strengthened by the fact that many families develop a personal relationship with the people that work for them, as is the case of families G (the employers) and D (the employees). In many cases a large part of the worker family will be employed with one employer family. This makes the two families develop a very interesting relationship that becomes both deep and inter-dependent and goes well beyond a simple master-servant relationship. This respondent summarizes this view well, parentheses are mine: The gardener used to work for my father, I have known him since I was a little girl, I mean, he is almost my brother. The lady that comes to do the clothes, I knew her mother for a very long time, and, hmmm, I know where this girl lives, she is a real angel, Lucy (another employee), she was recommended by my niece, (my sister) Xs daughter, her daughter (Lucys daughter) was my nieces nanny for about 15 years, (they are) people with impressive ethics, so she told me her mother wanted a job, so she is here.the chap that also works here, is her son in law, he is married to my nieces nanny In a somewhat complicated way this respondent, a member of family G asserts that, for all practical purposes, her family has a close work-based relationship with another family that spans two generations. This is a very good illustration of the kind of informal relationships that are sometimes the result of employment interactions. Table 5 presents a schema of the relationship. Table 5 The G and D Families and their Relationships

Resp. niece


Resp. sister


Lucys mother

Lucys husband

Table 5 provides a simple visual representation of the relationships between both families. As we can see both units are heavily intertwined with one another with multiple relationships already developed. These have taken in this particular case almost 20 years to develop. This provides fertile ground for future analysis. Let us look at how this process comes about. On the side of the employer trust is paramount, especially if she perceives herself to be a potential victim of kidnapping. Thus a recommendation from a family member with whom she has a close relationship goes a long way towards insuring that the prospective employee will not betray her trust. Lucys daughter has been working of the same family for 15 years, this means that the family she works for trusts her enough therefore a recommendation from her will be immediately given the benefit of the doubt. One can assume that Lucy would hardly want to jeopardize what is a personal and productive relationship of many years by recommending someone she does not trust fully. Following Gambetta & Bacharach (2001: 155) this personal recommendation can be interpreted as a sorting signal that results in equilibrium. Also, belonging to family D is an identity signal that is not hard to prove and is virtually impossible to mimic. This explains why most people do not hire without recommendations form a trusted individual. Even so, personal characteristics may come in the way and harm this initial trust. This is why employers must look for other characteristics beyond the initial personal reference. Characteristics as helpfulness, loyalty, discreetness and a good character are important in this case and must be proven before full trust is achieved. In this sense employers must solve the primary and secondary problems of trust (Gambetta & Bacharach, 2001), first by establishing which signs to look for that signal trustworthy characteristics and second if these signs are true or simply being mimicked by a potential traitor. This reduces the probability that the trustee is an opportunist (Gambetta & Bacharach, 2001: 157). On the side of the employee, he or she must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she possesses the characteristics that the employer demands. In the case of the families referred to in this paper the first step would be to prove membership to family D. This is easily achieved and, as I have said before it is a strong signal of the sorting kind. A conversation with other members of the G and D families and an ID should be enough to prove that the prospective employee is indeed a D. This is an important first step in the establishment of a relationship. Thus we can divide the hiring process into two distinct processes. First, there is an involvement and usage of social and familial networks to secure trustworthy candidates for the position available on behalf of both families. Both are known to use this network to secure employment and/or good employees. This makes the second part of the process much safer in the sense that one has already reduced the pool of prospective employers/employees significantly. Here a key element is family reputation. Members of the D family have invested important resources (both personal and professional) in building a reputation of impressive ethics. Also, the G family has invested in the relationship by being respectful and considerate employers who have built a personal link with the Ds. In this sense they both have a reputation to uphold. Members

of the D family will not normally recommend a black sheep (assuming they even have one) for a position with the G family. It is in their interest to maintain the ethical reputation they have and so therefore they will make sure that other members of the family adhere to it. If the recommended person should betray the Gs, the whole D family might have to pay for it, be it by loss of face/reputation or by losing their relationship with the Gs altogether. The risk to the Gs is evident, being victims of crime. This generates an incentive for internal control of its members within the G family. This is not just a rational calculation; it also considers the personal involvement of both families that goes beyond the employment scheme. The G family on the other hand must adhere to a certain code of conduct that allows for a good relationship to evolve. The second stage of the hiring process begins after the recommendation. In this process the employer must ascertain whether or not the prospective employee has, de facto, the characteristics that are part of the D family reputation but also other more personal characteristics that make that person trustworthy such as seriousness, helpfulness, discretion and other which, when added up, determine whether this person can be actually trusted, and ultimately hired. Ongoing research (Ochoa, forthcoming) points to the use of a host of mechanisms in this second stage used to recognize trustworthiness such as age, geographical provenance and physical appearance. Further research will elaborate on this. 6. Conclusion This paper has presented preliminary results of an ongoing investigation into the effects of crime, specifically kidnapping, on relationships based on trust. Because they exemplify very well the decision making process when risk of victimization is an important consideration I have chosen to analyse the relationships and hiring processes between middle and upper middle class people (common kidnapping victims) and their employees (common organizers/facilitators of kidnappings). As we have seen kidnapping has become a very prevalent crime in Mexico City and a consideration of some seriousness for most of the population. The evolution of this crime can be potentially accredited to 1) a successful campaign on behalf of the government to fight organized kidnapping gangs and 2) the same governments failure to strengthen the rule of law, a scenario that opened the kidnapping market to opportunist, non-specialized kidnappers, resulting in an increase in the kidnapping rate not just of wealthy people but mostly of middle and working class people, a demographic that has more difficulties protecting itself. This situation is the basis of the second section of the paper that addresses how the dynamics of kidnapping affect relationships based on trust in Mexico Citys relations-based, informal environment specifically when it comes to household work relationships. One important result is the use of substantial social networks and the development of personal relationships between employer and employee families to assure trustworthiness. Some relationships span two or three generations. This process is strongly based on reputation and this is what makes it solid. The use of these networks facilitates the task of deciding who to hire by narrowing the pool of candidates substantially, it also reduces the cost of investigating a persons reputation as information on this is readily available. The second part of the process involves further and more personalized testing of both the employer

and the employees trustworthiness. More research is underway to explore the mechanisms used for this. As a tentative conclusion to all this is it feasible to say that the weakness of the rule of law and the prevalence of kidnapping have made relationships based on trust much more costly to attain and maintain. However, on a positive note it is possible that, through heavy investment on reputation building and on the construction of informal familial networks that cut across class this problem is resolved favourably, at least for the families involved.

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