Kidnappings in Colombia rose by 5.6 percent in 2011 according to the Ministry of Defense, contradicting police estimates of an 8 percent fall in the same period.
The Operational Directorate for the Defense of Personal Liberty, a branch of the Defense Ministry, stated that there were 298 kidnappings in 2011, 16 more than in 2010.
The majority of the kidnappings were carried out by common criminals, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and criminals gangs (BACRIM – “bandas criminales”) accounting for 26, 10 and 4 percent respectively.
Of the 298 captured, 40 were released and 15 died while being held, according to the ministry. The remainder were freed.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Defense Ministry’s statistics mark a divergence from the figure of 258 kidnap victims stated by police earlier this year. One explanation for this is likely differences in how crimes are defined by the two institutions, and the filing of some “express” kidnappings — where the victim is held for a short period — as robberies in order to keep stats down.
Despite the disagreement on figures, both bodies agree on the shifting trend in kidnap cases, pointing to the move of the crime from rural to urban areas, and the increasing proportion of kidnappings being carried out by common criminals. Incidents of mass kidnappings make up over 10 percent of the figures, with the abduction of 23 oil workers in Vichada, five in Arauca, and 10 people in a gang-related dispute in Antioquia marking some of the most notable cases.
There has been a sharp downward trend in kidnapping rates over the last decade, from a high of 3,572 victims in 2000.
Kidnapping rates, however, have begun to creep steadily back up over the past two years in border departments such as Arauca. This will be unwelcome news for President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been criticized for allowing Colombia’s security situation to deteriorate since succeeding Alvaro Uribe in 2010.
Image, above: The homecoming of Nhora Valentina, the 10-year-old daughter of a mayor in Arauca, whose kidnapping in September 2011 caused a national outcry.