Kidnappings in Mexico are at a record high and are more than twice as likely to end with the death of a hostage, says a Mexican think-tank in a new study based on data from two federal government agencies. According to the report, Mexico registered 1,847 kidnappings in 2010, 209 of which resulted in the murder of the hostages. This is more than double that of 2009 and the highest indice registered since 1971.
The study, issued by the Citizens' Council for Public Security and Penal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Publica y la Justicia Penal - CCSP-JP), says it uses data from the Attorney General's Office and the National Public Security System, known by its Spanish acronym SNSP.
The report's 2010 tally includes the murder of 72 migrants killed last August by the Zetas in Tamaulipas. But the organization says that the actual total is likely much higher, as other possible kidnap cases involving migrants or "express" kidnappings are not counted by these government agencies.
In a press conference, CCSP-JP Director Jose Ortega Sanchez said that Mexico's kidnapping rate now stands at 195 cases for every million inhabitants, the second highest in the hemisphere after Venezuela. This is higher than Colombia in the early 1990s at the peak of drug trafficker Pablo Escobar's power, when the kidnapping rate was 62 cases per million, he said.
More kidnappings are likely to end in the death of the hostages than any other time in Mexico's history, the study argues. Since President Felipe Calderon assumed power in 2006, there have 494 reported hostage murders, an average of 123 per year, compared to 59 per year under President Vicente Fox (2000-2006). The CCSP-JP maintains that this indicates the government's approach to organized crime is not sustainable, as it has created a more unstable criminal landscape in which groups like the Zetas are more reliant on kidnapping for funding, or are more willing to kill their hostages in order to intimidate their many rivals.
Ortega added that kidnapping data from municipal governments is often "falsified" or underreported, contrasting with the data maintained by the SNSP, the local press, the police or the military. Proceso reports that in Tamaulipas, a battleground between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, the municipal government only reported 25 kidnap cases, when the military reported rescuing 173 people. Similar discrepancies can be seen in data from other states besieged by drug violence, including Nuevo Leon and Veracruz.
Few kidnappings are investigated or prosecuted, Ortega said during the press conference, because state governments want federal agencies to handle the cases. "State governments blame the federal government, saying all of of these kidnappings are being committed in the drug war and in the fight against organized crime, and as a result, they are the ones who need to investigate it," he said. "And the federal government says these kidnapping need to be investigated [at a municipal level]."
Mexican Congress passed a law in October 2010 that increased penalties for kidnappers to up to 70 years in prison. This was after two major kidnapping cases shocked the nation. One involved the deaths of 72 mostly Central and South American migrants by the Zetas in August. Since then another 50 migrants were reportedly taken by gunmen in Oaxaca in December. The other noted case involved the mysterious kidnapping of noted politician Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, who was held hostage by a mysterious, apparently political group for seven months before his release in December.
The full CCSP-JP report can be downloaded here.