Binational kidnapping gangs made up of Colombians and Venezuelans are spreading from the border states into central Venezuela, fuelling a trend that has seen Venezuela overtake Colombia as a kidnapping hotspot.

a1fc46601e6b465b4844397b42bd8d00_XLOver the course of a week, Venezuelan courts sentenced seven Colombians and one Venezuelan to prison for kidnapping in the central state of Yaracuy, while an alleged kidnapping gang consisting of four Venezuelans and one Colombian was broken up in the border state of Tachira.

According to police sources cited by El Nacional, the cases are part of a trend that in recent months has seen Colombian and Venezuelan kidnappers working together both in western and central Venezuela. According to the newspaper, there have also been reports of binational gangs in the Capital District and the states of Merida and Zulia, near the border.

Over the last decade, Venezuela and Colombia have been on opposite trajectories when it comes to kidnapping. In 2012, Colombia recorded 85 percent less kidnappings than in 2002, when the country was renowned as the world’s kidnapping capital. In contrast, kidnapping in Venezuela rose by an estimated 430 percent between 1999 and 2011 (although statistics from Venezuelan should be approached cautiously, as a lack of trust in official figures has led to organizations using estimates rather than the officially reported numbers). In 2012, there were 1,970 kidnappings in Venezuela, according to a study by criminologist Fermin Marmol Garcia, compared to 305 in Colombia.

The Venezuela-Colombia border is a hive for criminal activity, much of it fuelled by the cross-border operations of narco-paramilitary groups such as the Rastrojos. Colombian guerrilla groups like the FARC and the ELN are know to conduct kidnapping operations in Colombian border states like Arauca, then move their victims into Venezuela, where the ransom is then collected. The general atmosphere of lawlessness in this border region has almost certainly contributed to the growth of binational kidnapping rings, including those which are now reportedly moving away from the frontier states and more deeply into Venezuelan territory.