Kidnappings in Mexico have risen by more than 20 percent during the first months of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, making the government's target of reducing the number of kidnappings by 50 percent seem little more than a distant pipe dream.
A new report by civil society watchdog, the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, recorded an even steeper rise, registering 555 in 2013 compared to 417 in 2012.
According to the Citizens Council report, in 2012 Mexico recorded 2,756 kidnappings, a figure only exceeded by the 2011 total of 2,979. The figures were calculated by adding up the number of kidnapping complaints ("denuncias") to local and national prosecutors, and the number of kidnap victims rescued by the security forces.
The report noted that the true figure could be much higher, as the numbers do not include "express" kidnappings (in which victims are abducted and quickly released after their bank accounts are cleaned out), mass kidnappings of migrants, or unreported kidnappings. The report also accused officials of "shaving" the statistics to conceal the true scale of the problem.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the government may have a tendency to under-report figures, the numbers offered by the Citizens Council should also be approached cautiously, as their methodology raises the possibility that some cases were double counted if the kidnapping was reported but the victim then rescued. However, from both sets of figures it is clear that kidnappings are on the rise, which does not bode well for President Enrique Peña Nieto's bold promise to slash the number of kidnappings in half.
According to the Council's report, approximately half of all kidnappings recorded between 1971 and 2012, occurred under the 2006-2012 presidency of Felipe Calderon. This illustrates two important changes in the criminal groups and the dynamics of Mexico's criminal underworld:
1) For a variety of reasons, the largest criminal groups diversified their portfolios during that time period. Groups like the Zetas and the Familia Michoacana moved into everything from piracy to local drug peddling to kidnapping. Their model may represent the future of organized crime in the country.
2) The largest criminal groups fragmented during the Calderon presidency and many, desperate to maintain their earnings, turned to kidnapping. The switch was relatively simple. They had the troop strength, the infrastructure, and the know-how.