Bandito Shakedown

Throughout my 20 years in the chemical industry I had the opportunity to visit dozens of chemical plants in several countries. My time visiting these facilities was mostly uneventful but if you travel enough you will eventually encounter a few situations worthy of a tale. One such encounter was my visit to an organic peroxide plant in El Chapo, Mexico. El Chapo is located near the Gulf of Mexico coast in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

After spending a few days in Mexico City I hopped a jet to El Chapo. The airfield near El Chapo was third world at best. The landing strip was paved but the ramp only had room for one plane. There was no jet way to the terminal (if you could call it a terminal) but no worries, the jet had fold down stairs. I live in Houston and I can always tell I am home when I step off the plane and feel the heat and humidity.  I didn’t think any place in North America had the heavy mix of heat and humidity like Houston in the summer but I am pretty sure El Chapo bests Houston on the misery index. Stepping off the plane in El Chapo was brutal. The heat was unbearable and the humidity soaked my freshly pressed shirt. My colleagues and I were met by our escort, a tall local about 50 years of age who ran the plant. We loaded into a 15 passenger van and headed to a local resort for breakfast. After we fueled up for the day we made the one hour drive to the company owned chemical plant on the edge of the Veracruz jungle.

Our meetings went well. We surveyed the plant’s IT infrastructure, met with the staff and worked with a vendor to plan for an accounting system implementation. There are definitely some stories to be told about these meetings but it’s probably best for all involved that I wait for the statute of limitations to run out (just kidding- no, not really). Anyway, the plan was for our escort to drive us to the coast for a seafood dinner before bringing us back to the airport for a return trip to Mexico City. The fastest route to the coast brought us over a dirt road through the jungle. This is where things got interesting.

The sun was getting low in the sky but I was told by our escort we would be through the jungle before sunset. It was getting late in the day but the heat hadn’t relented. The van in which we were riding had the AC on high and seemed to be doing the trick but I was anxious to get to the coast where I was sure to find a nice sea breeze. My thoughts of eating red snapper in a tropical paradise were suddenly interrupted when our van came to a sliding stop. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening. There was a cloud of dust  from the sudden stop and about 15 armed locals were surrounding the van, all of which were yelling in Spanish and waiving their weapons. Our escort tells us all not to panic and to keep quiet.

I really wasn’t sure what was happening and my thoughts turned towards my coworkers. I was preparing myself for an escalation and was sizing up my fellow passengers to determine which ones were going to have my back. I have no training for this type of thing but began to formulate a plan of attack. My senses heightened and it seemed like I was seeing the entire situation from several angles. I was watching the guys on both sides of the van. I was watching my coworkers and I was watching our driver being shouted out by what appeared to be the head bandito. As I was thinking that our drivers next move would determine our fate I see him reach below his seat.

The rest of this true story will be posted next week. Tune in to find out how it ends.

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