Correspondent Greg Brosnan took up an assignment in Mexico City last year to cover the Mexican economy. In the following story he recounts how he was held up and robbed in an express kidnapping.

By Greg Brosnan

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - I'm really sorry. This is my job, the man said, wiping his fingerprints from my debit card.

He slipped it back to me under a table in a crowded downtown restaurant where a Mexican friend and I had been held hostage for a half an hour that felt like two days.

An accomplice, who had guarded us while his partner emptied nearly $1,000 from a nearby cash dispenser using the PIN number I had given him, eyed the door.

Then they calmly walked out, warning us to order two more beers and wait 10 minutes before leaving, saying many more of their gang would follow us to make sure we did as we were told.

Two days after arriving from New York to take up my post as an economics reporter in Mexico City, I had experienced one of the nastiest and fastest-growing manifestations of Mexico's informal economy - express kidnapping.

I had never been mugged while reporting previously for Reuters in Mexico and Guatemala, or even during a spell living in a Brazilian shantytown.

In New York City, where my beat was the Latin American debt market, three assailants had tried to rob me in my apartment building in a still rough-at-the-edges neighborhood but they got cold feet when I shouted for help.

More than a few expatriates working for any length of time in Latin America have been mugged. I imagined my luck would run out on a dark back street, not in broad daylight amid a throng of Saturday shoppers.

Express kidnappings have become so common in Mexico that taking a street taxi - which thieves often use to capture their victims - is akin to playing Russian roulette. Many end in violence and sometimes death.

In a typical taxi-jacking story heard everywhere across this city, your cab driver announces he has broken down and slows to a halt. Gunmen force their way in, pistol whip you to the floor and demand your ATM card and PIN.

Victims who struggle can get killed. Women have been raped. Kidnappers often hold their prey until after midnight so as to extract the next day's cash dispenser limit as well. If you survive you may be let out beaten and penniless miles from home.


My kidnappers were professionals. We never saw a gun, just a bulge clasped inside a jacket.

A man stopped us in the street to ask directions, drew us close and whispered not to look around but that we were surrounded by gang members with silencer-fitted pistols in league with the police.

A partner joined him and he told us to follow him as naturally as possible into a side-street working-class restaurant.

According to the hostile environment training course I'd taken earlier in the year, the optimum time to flee was right then, as our assailants secured control.

We could have made a commotion or run. Maybe there were only two of them and police were not really involved, but in a country where police themselves often run kidnapping rings, we struck an unspoken agreement not to risk it.

Families devoured stews and swigged beer and sodas around us in the restaurant. Salsa blared as we played with the bland rice and soup we'd been told to order.

As they took turns to watch us, they kept up a jovial banter peppered with dark threats of dismemberment. I spotted a third man in the doorway, one eye on us, another on the street.

As our assailants disappeared into the sunlit smog, we nervously chinked our bottles, drank up and wandered dazed into the noisy traffic. The parting words one of the kidnappers rang in my ears.

Mexico is a great place. You should stay, he told me. It just wasn't your lucky day.