Colombian police reported that 292 cases of kidnapping were registered in 2013, of which 32 could be directly traced to the FARC, despite the rebel group’s promise to cease the practice — a government precondition for peace talks.
In February 2012, the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced they would cease the practice of “retentions” (the guerrilla word for kidnapping), which was a government precondition for sitting down and negotiating an end to the 50-year civil conflict. In September 2012 the peace talks formally began and continue in Havana, Cuba.
However a statement from the police anti-kidnapping unit, the GAULA, stated it had traced 32 abductions directly to the FARC, although the vast majority of kidnappings, 76 percent, were carried out by common criminals. The total of registered kidnappings in 2013 was 292, a slight decline on the year before, which saw 305 cases, but way down from a decade earlier, when Colombia was the world kidnap capital with 2123 registered cases, and the FARC were far and away the principal abductors.
While the order from the FARC ruling body, the seven-man Secretariat, has been largely obeyed, it is clear that some guerrilla front are still engaging in kidnapping for ransom. This is most likely the case for fronts that do not operate in drug producing areas, or where there is not a large number of companies or urban centers from where they can engage in extortion.
There is evidence that some FARC units are profiting from kidnapping, but subcontracting the operations to other groups. Foremost among them is their allies of the National Liberation Army (ELN), who have not renounced kidnapping and were responsible for at least 29 cases in 2013. The GAULA head, General Humberto Guatibonza, said that they had detected a trend whereby kidnappings are carried out by common criminals, but the ransoms are charged by the FARC. He said they had tracked cases of this in the provinces of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Valle del Cauca.
It may be that common criminals use the name of the FARC when they come to charging ransoms, figuring that the rebel reputation could ensure more rapid payment.
While there may be some exceptions, for the most part FARC units have obeyed the order to halt kidnapping. What has been seen is an increase in extortion, even as kidnappings have declined, as the rebels fill their coffers by diversifying their revenue streams.
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