By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Shortly after taking office back in December 2018, both Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum made a spectacular show of the selling off of their respective governments’ armored cars and the costly removal of bulletproof glass from those vehicles they kept to be replaced by traditional automotive glass.
Since that time, violent crime in both the country and the capital have only increased (last year the official murder count was 35,588 — the highest on record — and the figures for 2020 are already poised to surpass that number).
More often than not, government officials are the main targets of cartel leaders and other organized crime groups.
But after the bloody June 26 assault of Mexico City Police Chief Omar García Harfuch, both López Obrador and Sheinbaum have walked back their anti-armored car policies and are openly accepting the need for bulletproof vehicles to transport high-level public officials and carry out security maneuvers.
The failed assassination attempt against García Harfuch, allegedly by the extremely brutal Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), left the police chief severely wounded and at least three others dead.
Fortunately, García Harfuch’s Suburban SUV was armored, and he survived the attack.
According to police reports, about 80 percent of the bullets from the front-on attack of his car by the assailants’ high power rifles (including a 50 calibre Barrett capable of shooting down a helicopter) did not penetrate the vehicle’s cabin.
In other words, García Harfuch’s bulletproof SUV probably saved his life.
And that is precisely why both the federal and local government have done a 180-degree about-face when it comes to armored vehicles.
The Mexican government is not the only client for the country’s roughly 50 armored car providers.
Private citizens in Mexico are also opting for armored vehicle protection.
In fact, the armored car business in Mexico has continued to grow at a rate of between 10 and 11 percent per annum over the course of the last half decade, and that figure — like the crime rate — is on the rise.
But not all armored vehicles are alike, and neither is the degree of protection they provide.
Leading the pack of most reliable and most secure bulletproofed vehicles in Mexico is the SandCat, a lightweight, mission-ready, 4 by 4 that is the transport of choice globally for law enforcement, special forces, homeland security and border patrol agents.
The Israeli-designed SandCat — built and distributed exclusively in Mexico by the leading Latin American armored vehicle provider Blindajes Epel — is the international gold standard in armored protection.
Unlike after-the-fact armor plating that is adapted and modified to accommodate an existing vehicle, the SandCat is built from the ground up, using a commercial Ford 550 chassis, which allows for rapid construction and customization, as well as speed and maneuverability.
Often referred to as “the nightmare of every drug trafficker,” the updated, ultra-protected, multirole SandCat, with an eight-cylinder turbo diesel engine and a six-speed drive transmission, is versatile enough to adapt to both urban and off-road terrains, and can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometers an hour, making it the ideal transport for military and police patrols.
Reinforced ballistic steel plates and additional safety features guarantee that the SandCat is the most secure armored vehicle available against any type of assault weapons.
The high-performance transport SandCat can carry a payload of more than 1,800 kilograms, while the utility and special operations variants have a capacity of 2,100 kilos and 2,300 kilos, respectively.
Option add-on features that can be fitted to a SandCat include gunner protection kits, remote weapon stations, nuclear biological chemical safety systems, open cargo beds, self-recovery winches, run-flat tires, trailer hitches, pintles, rearview cameras and external intercom systems.
Here in Mexico, there are three types of SandCat available: the SandCat MX, the long SandCat MX and the prison transport SandCat MX, which can hold up to eight prisoners and four police guards.
Armorizing a vehicle does not come cheap, and the cost can vary greatly, depending on the provider, the type of bulletproofing and the quality of the armor being used.
The price for a simple bulletproofing added to an existing vehicle starts at about $25,000; that of a fully equipped SandCat can be more than $250,000.
Obviously, this is a business where you get what you pay for.
So far, the Mexican military has purchased more than 300 SandCat units from Blindajes Epel.
…July 6, 2020