MEXICO CITY (AP) — The earpiece is usually the giveaway. Or, maybe it's the dark suits, the big SUVs with tinted windows or the menacing Dodge Avengers in black, always black.
Private guards are part of a tense landscape in Mexico, especially in the capital, where the fear of violence has fueled steady demand for high-end security.
In upscale neighborhoods, they are everywhere — standing watch outside luxury hotels, exclusive shopping centers and expensive gyms. They wait at the gates of prestigious private schools, ready to ferry the children of Mexico's rich and powerful through traffic. At the city's bustling airport, they welcome visiting VIPs.
For many nouveau riche Mexicans, their armed-to-the-teeth escorts are a status symbol that provides an intimidating, even rude and aggressive shield.
But for truly high-profile clients, known as "principals" in the industry jargon, elite security guards such as members of the Lucena Group are trained to work with subtlety, not by flashing their guns or driving recklessly through city streets. Their main tools are intelligence, preparation, technology and discretion.
The best are assigned to protect touring performers such as Lady Gaga or Madonna, or corporate executives visiting Mexico to close a deal with the likes of billionaire Carlos Slim.
The work in carefully choreographed teams to guide clients arriving on helipads in the heart of the metropolis, protect them on the chaotic streets and to be on high alert during the quick walk between a principal's armored car and a hotel lobby.
In Mexico City, the guards are known as "guaruras" but they prefer to call themselves "escoltas ejecutivos" or "executive escorts." Whatever the name, their growing presence underscores the fact that, despite having one of the largest police forces in the world, Mexico looks to private guards for true protection.