Venezuela’s northern border state of Táchira saw a jump in kidnappings during the first six months of 2019 — a likely consequence of armed groups roaming the Venezuela-Colombia border.
From January to June, five kidnappings were reported in Táchira, according to news reports examined by InSight Crime. Táchira registered a total of five kidnappings in all of 2018, according to information from the Venezuelan Observatory on Citizens’ Security (Observatorio Venezolano de Seguridad Ciudadana- OVS). For the first six months of 2019, the OVS — the official tally — recorded only two kidnappings.
The kidnappings were made public when security agencies reported that victims were rescued. During the first week of April, a police special forces unit rescued Alejandro Tineo, who was kidnapped in the Recreo sector of San Antonio, Táchira.
Then, at the end of April, two owners of a dairy company were kidnapped while leaving their business in Coloncito, in the Panamericano municipality. They were rescued by Táchira state police officials and the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB).
On June 7, a triple kidnapping took place when businessman Germán Plata, his assistant Norma Loaiza and their driver José Guillermo Santafé Romero were abducted while driving between Ureña and San Cristóbal. The two men were rescued twenty days later during an operation by Táchira’s Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Unit (Grupo Antiextorsión y Secuestros – GAES). Norma Loaiza wasn’t freed until the end of July.
On June 15, the Venezuelan newspaper Diario de Los Andes reported on the death of Audelio Antonio Sánchez, a 62-year-old farmer from the Jáuregui municipality in the northeast of Táchira state. Sánchez had been kidnapped and reportedly died in a violent clash with his captors. His body was found in the El Carira sector in the Panamericano municipality.
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At the end of that month, the Diario de Los Andes reported on the kidnapping of a one-month-old girl. Three young men tried to sell the baby girl in the state of Cúcuta in Colombia when they were arrested, according to a report by judicial police.
Historically, kidnapping has been one of the most common crimes in the state of Táchira, whose border location makes its residents extremely vulnerable to the actions of armed actors in Colombia. Nevertheless, a decline in kidnappings had been reported over the past few years.
InSight Crime Analysis
While those responsible for the kidnappings in Táchira have not been identified, the variety of criminal organizations now operating in the state and along the Venezuela-Colombia border could explain the increase.
Germán Plata, one of the businessmen kidnapped, revealed in an interview with the newspaper La Nación that his captors identified themselves as guerrilla fighters. However, about a dozen criminal groups are concentrated along the border, which is crossed by thousands of Venezuelan migrants every day. The groups present on the border include the drug trafficking gang Los Rastrojos, a border security “colectivo,” the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) guerrilla force, and the mega-gang El Tren de Aragua.
On the other hand, the uptick in Táchira contrasts with nationwide reports that kidnappings are down. In a recent statement, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol declared a 41 percent reduction in kidnapping instances across Venezuela. Although he did not offer official figures to back his assertion, the alleged decline in total numbers may be a result of fewer reports and allegations.
The situation in Táchira is different. So far in 2019, the state has recorded an overall increase in crime. The state went from 14th place among the states with the highest crime rates in Venezuela in 2018, to tenth place in 2019, according to OVS data to which InSight Crime had access. Figures from the state government institution also show a 6 percent increase in homicides.
The increase in crime in Táchira coincides with the proliferation of armed groups that are attracted to the border state by the criminal businesses arising along with the forced migration of Venezuelans.