The number of recorded kidnappings in Venezuela has increased by 88 percent over the last year, according to new figures, which help to quantify a security crisis that has all too often been obscured by the government's reluctance to release damning crime statistics.
There were 411 reported kidnappings in Venezuela between January and the second week of September 2016, compared to 219 over the same period in 2015, according to police figures obtained by Runrunes. (See Runrunes graphic below) Of these victims, 375 were liberated in 2016, compared to 208 in 2015, while 18 were killed, compared to nine in 2015.
While kidnappings have been rising, the police's ability to resolve them has been falling. According to Runrunes, internal police reports show that 82 percent of reported cases last year ended with the freeing of the hostage without a ransom being paid, but in 2016 this has dropped to 62 percent.
Over 80 percent of the kidnappings were concentrated in just two zones: the state of Miranda, where 216 incidents were reported, and the Capital District of Caracas, where 123 kidnappings were recorded.
InSight Crime Analysis
Evidence that kidnapping is out of control in Venezuela has been emerging for some years. However, the figures obtained by Runrunes demonstrate this with a clarity previously lacking due to the Venezuelan government's reluctance to publish regular and reliable statistics that illustrate the country's security crisis.
As noted by Runrunes, the statistics are likely a huge underestimate, as many victims, perhaps even a majority, prefer to negotiate with the kidnappers rather than report to the police. In addition, it does not account for the plague of "express kidnappings," where victims are held for under 48 hours while their accounts are cleaned out or a quick ransom is paid.
The figures also highlight that while kidnapping may be rampant in Venezuela, it is also highly concentrated. Of particular note is the state of Miranda, which accounts for over half of all cases nationwide.
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Miranda is the site of many of the country's designated areas popularly known as "peace zones" -- an unofficial state initiative where security forces essentially withdraw from certain areas. In many cases, the vacuum left by the state is filled by criminals, and many peace zones have become strongholds for gangs and violence hotspots.
A security forces report seen by InSight Crime highlights the importance of these zones for kidnapping gangs in Miranda and Caracas, stating "the 'peace zones' are used by kidnappers as 'captivity zones.'"
Earlier this week, the Venezuelan government announced a new national strategy to combat kidnapping. However, the government's poor track record on implementing new security initiatives suggests the kidnapping epidemic is unlikely to end for the foreseeable future.