Mexican Female Bodyguards

SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD BY NINOSKA MARCANO M.

They are tough protectors in a country facing tough times and runaway crimes.

The country’s first national squad of female bodyguards say they’re are ready to face kidnappers, drug dealers and other tough guys.

Known as ”Las Ateneas,” these Mexican nikitas have a clientele that include businesswomen, bankers, politicians and their families and local telenovela actresses.

Named after the Greek Goddess of War, Las Ateneas are a group of 20 Mexican police women, all mothers, between ages 20 and 40, highly trained in self defense and disarming techniques.

The idea is to ”capitalize in the female squad’s ability to blend in,” said Ana Isabel Lopez Castro, marketing manager at Cusaem, the Auxiliary Security Forces from the state of Mexico, where the squad trains.

”Female and male bodyguards have the same skills, but male bodyguards will always stand out [in a crowd],” she said.

Cusaem is a branch of Mexico’s Federal State Security Agency. Founded 60 years ago, it provided bodyguards and surveillance to companies such as HSBC, Banamex, Unilever, Harley-Davidson, Liverpool and Alpura, among others.

They’re experts in camouflage. They can look like a nanny, a mother or a girlfriend, while escorting their clients.

In reality, they are armed police officers with two to five years of training. They are under the direct command of Cusaem police chief, Claudia Isela Macias, a veteran who makes sure all female officers follow the force’s rigorous training, which includes defensive driving, first aid courses, evaluation of high risk situations, and accident prevention.

Their clients are very diverse, Macias said, and some of them who used to hire only male bodyguards are requesting the female guards.

”Everyone is on high alert and being preventive,” she said.

Las Ateneas’ debut in the market means business to Ciro Mendoza, head of Cusaem.

He reports that their annual demand to provide personal protection for women increased by 12 percent in 2008 alone. He expects 2009 to follow the same trend.

Female bodyguards are paid an about $138 weekly. The estimated daily rate of $65 dollars comes with a weapon, bulletproof vest, medical service, and — when needed — access to backup from Mexico’s Federal State Security Agency.

Being an Atenea is hard work, said Alma Alicia Rivera Sancho, 36, a mother of four. Her family complains about the danger, but to her, the key is mastering the art of discretion, and treating her job just like any other.

”We are protecting someone at all times,” she said. “We listen, we see, and we say nothing.”

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