A new report examining extortion in Colombia provides an illustration of the scope of the crime, revealing how the search for alternative revenue sources and changing criminal dynamics have led to an increase in extortion over the last few years.
Colombia's Center for Security and Democracy -- an organization based out of Bogota's Sergio Arboleda University -- has released a report analyzing extortion data from the years 2003 to 2014, documenting a total of 25,842 cases, reported El Tiempo.
According to the report, the incidence of extortion began to increase in 2011, reaching a total of around 4,800 cases in 2013 -- more than double the number of cases reported ten years earlier. In 2014, Colombia averaged 13 reported extortions a day, a total of 4,888 cases.
The report notes that common criminals, more than criminal organizations known as BACRIM or guerrilla groups, are primarily responsible for the increasing trend, carrying out 4,164 extortions in 2014, up from 666 in 2008. Of these extortions, nine out of every 10 took place in urban areas, with the province of Antioquia the most affected (16.6 percent), followed by capital city Bogota (9.9 percent), and Valle del Cauca province (9.5 percent).
However, the figures in the study only reflect the cases reported to authorities -- unreported incidences are estimated to make up around 80 percent of all extortions. Additionally, the figures in the study don't include "micro-extortion," whereby criminal bands demand small daily fees from street vendors and taxi drivers in their areas of operation.
In an interview with El Tiempo, Colonel Fabio Lopez, the director of Colombia's police anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion agency (GAULA), stated that extortions carried out by prisoners are also a driving force behind the high incidence of the crime. He estimated that prisoners make at least 10,000 extortion calls per year.
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The Center for Security and Democracy report provides further confirmation of a trend that has become increasingly apparent in Colombia: extortion levels are on the rise while incidences of kidnappings and other violent crimes have fallen.
Indeed, as InSight Crime has previously reported, carrying out extortion is much less risky and requires fewer resources than other crimes -- such as kidnapping and drug trafficking -- but can still result in significant income; in 2013, El Tiempo estimated that Colombia's extortion market generates annual revenues of over $1 billion dollars.
As Colonel Lopez stated in his interview, extortion networks run from within Colombia's prisons are a big part of the problem, and have become increasingly sophisticated, with prisoners making frequent calls to victims outside prison walls in order to intimidate or trick them into coughing up money.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion
Nonetheless, given the apparent ease with which prisoners are able to obtain cellphones, and the low risks associated with the crime, Colombia's common criminals will likely continue to favor extortion as a source of revenue.