Motorcycle Killings: Criminal Modus Operandi in LatAm

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Over 1,500 Guatemalans have reportedly been killed by motorcycle assassins since 2012, highlighting the spread across Latin America of a murder tactic popularized during the era of Colombia’s Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel.

According to the non-governmental organization Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), 1,537 Guatemalans have been killed in the past three and a half year by motorcycle-born assassins, reported elPeriodico. An additional 699 individuals have reportedly suffered injuries as a result of these attacks.

According to GAM, the number of motorcycle killings in Guatemala is on the rise. The number of registered deaths increased by over 50 percent between 2012 and 2014, from 335 to 527, respectively.

To combat this crime, former President Alvaro Colom prohibited a second passenger from riding on the back of a motorcycle in 2009. However, current President Otto Perez Molina lifted this ban in 2013.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profile

Meanwhile, a recent study conducted by Ecuador’s Judicial Police found that suspects on motorcycles in the city of Guayaquil have carried out an average of nine crimes per day this year. (See El Universo’s graph below) The 1,876 crimes committed by individuals riding motorcycles represent almost 15 percent of the total number of criminal acts reported to authorities during the first seven months of 2015.

15-08-07-Ecuador-Moto-Crimes

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of motorcycles as a vehicle for assassination dates back to the 1980s, when Pablo Escobar ran the powerful Medellin Cartel in Colombia. On orders from Escobar, motorcycle assassins killed Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, setting off a war between the cartel and the state over the issue of extradition. The cartel emerged victorious in this war, and Escobar’s use of motorcycle assassins catapulted him to international notoriety. 

Since that time, the use of motorcycle assassins has spread throughout Latin America. The tactic has become common in countries with a strong gang presence such as Honduras and Guatemala, but has also been seen in more peaceful nations like Uruguay.

Despite the prevalence of motorcycle assassins, many urban dwellers in Latin America oppose a two-passenger ban because they rely on motorcycles for transportation. Perez Molina’s reversal of the two-passenger prohibition in 2013 attests to the unpopularity of this law, which often stalls efforts to cut down on motorcycle crimes. Medellin has restricted men from riding on the back of motorcycles for years, but a Colombian court recently overturned the ban. 

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