Kidnapping in Venezuela Rose 60% in 2010: Think Tank

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A Venezuelan think-tank stated that kidnappings could have risen by 60 percent between 2009 and 2010, with this nation overtaking Colombia, once the world kidnap capital.

The Institute for Investigations on Coexistence and Citizen Security (Instituto de Investigaciones de Coexistencia y Seguridad Ciudadana – INCOSEC) believes that there were 1,179 kidnappings in 2010, an average of three a day. According to El Universal, this projection is based on data kept by the Venezuelan National Guard (Guardia Nacional de Venezuela – GAES) during the first trimester of 2010. In a country where security statistics are notoriously hard to come by and are shrouded in politics, it should be emphasized that this number is a projection and not the government’s official total of kidnap cases registered in 2010.

In an interview with unnamed police sources, El Universal reported that Caracas may register up to two “express” kidnapping a day. An express kidnapping often involves the victim being taken to ATM machines and forced to withdraw money. Before police dismantled an organized gang dedicated to kidnapping, known as ‘the Invisibles,’ that figure was as high as six cases a day in the capital, according to the newspaper.

The government body in Venezuela that keeps data on kidnapping cases is the criminal investigative body known as the CICPC (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas). The agency reported that it successfully rescued 93 percent of hostages in 2010, but has not yet released its own data on the total number of cases registered last year.

Data from the CICPC does show, however, that reported kidnappings have steadily increased over the past decade, with 232 cases reported in 2006 and 382 cases in 2007, according to a 2008 study by Pax Christi. But these figures are probably grossly underreported as the CICPC statistics do not include “express” cases, only long-term kidnappings in which larger ransoms are demanded.

Known as “lightning” kidnappings in Brazil or the “millionaire’s walk” in Colombia, “express” kidnapping is a phenomenon seen across the region. In Venezuela, these operations typically last no more than 72 hours, and involve payments as small as US$50, according to INCOSEC. In Caracas, the victims are often shuttled about the city in a car while waiting for the delivery of the ransom. Low-level criminals favor “express” operations because they require few resources and can be easily repeated.

INCOSEC maintains that the most “dangerous” bands dedicated to kidnapping are made up of Colombians. That Venezuela’s rising crime rates is in part caused by a “spillover” from Colombia is a popular interpretation for some analysts, as Colombian armed groups and neo-paramilitary gangs have taken refuge in border states like Zulia and Tachira. According to Pax Christi, Venezuelan gangs may have copied the practices of Colombian criminals operating in Venezuela. Nevertheless, the presence of Colombian drug dealers and leftist rebel groups in the rural, border states does not explain the rising homicides and kidnappings in urban centers like Caracas.

A better explaination may be the ongoing involvement of corrupt security officials in kidnapping schemes. Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami admitted last year that police may be involved in up to 20 percent of all crime in Venezuela. In 2010, the Venezuelan Program of Action and Education in Human Rights (PROVEA) registered 39 complaints of missing people captured by the police or military personnel.

Monday saw the arrest of two military officials, accused of kidnapping three children, while in late January, two city police officers were detained for running a kidnapping ring in Caracas. Even the leader of ‘the Invisibles’ gang, blamed for masterminding many of Caracas’ “express” kidnappings, was able to escape from prison last August after authorities touted his arrest.

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