According to a recent report, kidnappings in Guatemala have fallen sharply since 2009. However, questions remain about whether Guatemala’s success can be replicated elsewhere in the region, or whether criminal groups are simply relying more on extortion to earn funds.
Between 2008 and 2011, Guatemala saw an average of 117 kidnappings a year. Meanwhile, 2015 has seen just 17, according to statistics reported by La Hora. The dramatic decline has been attributed to the success of the police anti-kidnapping task force (FTS, according to its Spanish initials) which has received significant state resources.
In lauding the success of the FTS, former Minister of Government Carlos Menocal commented, “Kidnapping is not an industry anymore like it used to be.”
Numbers cited by La Hora go back to 1996, when the country saw as many 233 kidnap cases per year. The crime then declined and appeared to be under control until 2008, when 198 kidnap cases were registered.
Subsequent years, including 2010 and 2011, also saw high numbers with 123 and 126 cases respectively. Since then, reported kidnappings have been dropping steadily.
The head of the FTS task force told La Hora that kidnappings are also going down due to help from civil society organizations. These groups have been instrumental in getting families to officially denounce kidnappings and involve the police, rather than trying to resolve cases privately, he said.
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Guatemala’s success in curtailing kidnappings offers a potential roadmap for other countries in the region facing similar challenges. Other countries, like Colombia, have also made the case that training up an anti-kidnapping police or military force has done much to reduce the crime.
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An alternative explanation for why kidnapping is going down in Guatemala is that criminals no longer see the crime as an easy source of income. It is possible that instead, criminals have turned to extortion. This is an attractive alternative to kidnapping as it is less labor intensive, harder to trace, and can be carried out en masse, even from behind bars. In Guatemala alone, extortion is a $61-million-a-year criminal industry.