A series of "express kidnappings" by gangs on major roads in the Buenos Aires area have sparked fears of a security crisis on Argentina's roads, though the gangs do not seem to be highly sophisticated operators capable of holding hostages for extended periods.

According to La Nacion, the highways near the Argentine capital are becoming increasingly dangerous for motorists. Several independent gangs now operate along these roads, kidnapping and robbing drivers.

The editorial warns that the government’s inability to address the crime wave could mark the beginning of a security crisis, with drivers unable move freely on the highways.

Three gangs are known for committing this type of robbery along the main Buenos Aires freeway. One of them, the Gang of the West -- named for the portion of the road it controls -- is reported to be responsible for numerous abductions, including that of a pilot from Argentine Airlines.

Choosing victims according to the quality of their vehicles, gang members will surround a victim’s car, cutting them off from escape routes. The gang then force the victim to lead them to their home, and then rob it. Both the British and US governments warn travellers to Argentina about these express kidnappings. This type of short-term kidnapping is far more common in countries like Venezuela and Mexico.

InSight Crime Analysis

Express kidnappings in Argentina have involved high-profile victims connected to the government, businesses, and media. Recent victims include two professional soccer players, Daniel Villalva and Juan Cazares, as well as the former wife of an advisor to the vice president.

Wealthier victims are sometimes held for longer periods, with a ransom demanded for their release. La Nacion reports that the Gang of the West has made tens of thousands of dollars from the ransoms. However, the US State Department has said that these longer-term kidnappings are rare compared to express kidnappings in Argentina

Argentina’s wave of abductions does not appear connected to any other form of organized crime, although the country is increasingly facing a threat from gangs running drug and sex trafficking networks. The simplicity of the abductions may point to a lack of sophistication among the gangs; although the gang members are able to effectively target and capture their victims, the fact that the majority of the victims are only held for short periods may indicate the gangs’ inability to deal with the logistical complexities of long-term kidnapping, such as having a safe house to in which to keep the victim, and contacting their family to demand money.