A pair of Spanish tourists kidnapped in northern Colombia have been released following a transnational police operation, in an incident that illustrates the degree to which ordinary criminal groups — rather than guerrilla organizations — have become the primary perpetrators of the crime in the country.
As Reuters reports, Maria Concepcion Mariaska, 43, and Angel Fernandez, 49, were found sleeping in hammocks during an early morning raid by Colombian police on June 15.
General Humberto Guatibonza, the head of Colombia’s anti-kidnapping police unit, said a $667,000 ransom was paid in Madrid, and the two men that came to collect it were later arrested.
The couple, who were kidnapped a month ago as they drove through Colombia’s La Guajira desert region near a popular tourist spot, had been held in the homes of Wayuu Indians, an indigenous people that populates the area. They had been chained at times, according to the head of La Guajira’s police department.
Speaking to reporters on June 16, the couple said they were ambushed by a group of men with guns in an attack that was “very traumatic.”
Once the “kidnap capital of the world,” Colombia has seen a dramatic decrease in the crime over the past ten years. In 2003, more than 2,000 people were kidnapped in Colombia, compared to just 305 in 2012 — an 85 percent drop which has been largely attributed to successes fighting the country’s two primary guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). This recent kidnapping, which would have barely made international headlines at the height of Colombia’s kidnapping crisis, has received significant global attention, indicative of how the country’s security climate has improved.
The nature of this recent case also reflects the changing dynamics of Colombian kidnapping. The Spaniards were kidnapped by common criminals, not by rebels or by the new generation organized crime groups known as “bandas criminals,” or BACRIM. According to figures compiled by Colombian non-governmental organization (NGO) Pais Libre, common criminals have become the primary perpetrators of the crime, responsible for 85 percent of all kidnap cases in 2012.
The ransom payment and arrests in Spain are also noteworthy, indicating that the kidnappers had international links.