Police in Bolivia have freed two children kidnapped by drug traffickers after their cocaine "mule" mother was arrested in Spain, in an example of a rarely reported but highly common form of extortion used by criminal groups across Latin America.
The two boys -- a three-month-old baby and an 11-year-old -- were rescued by Bolivian and Spanish security forces on Monday after spending around a week in captivity, reported El Pais.
Their abductors were reportedly a group of drug traffickers in the city of Santa Cruz who used Spanish national Noelia Magaña to smuggle a kilo of cocaine to her home country. Magaña then sold the bulk of the drugs and was about to head back to Bolivia when she was arrested on March 16 in her hometown of Yecla, Murcia with the 35 grams of cocaine that remained.
The traffickers believed she had decided to keep the money, and consequently kidnapped two of her children to force her and her family to return the profits. During this time the suspects called and sent messages to relatives demanding thousands of Euros in payment, reported El Pais.
The children, Manuel and Francisco, may be repatriated to Spain in the near future.
InSight Crime Analysis
The case in Bolivia exemplifies the largely unreported practice of narco-kidnapping, which is used as leverage in the drug trade either as a form of guarantee that debts will be honored and traffickers will be paid, or to silence liabilities who have been arrested.
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The practice is particularly prevalent in Colombia, and Colombian criminal organizations working internationally are renowned for preferring to work with their compatriots so they can use families back home as a form of insurance.
This is not a new phenomenon in Bolivia, either, as shown by other cases that have come to light in recent years. In November 2013, for example, the 13-year-old son of a drug trafficker was reportedly held captive to settle a drug debt, while in June 2011 the wife of a drug trafficker was kidnapped over a $7 million debt.
While such narco-kidnappings are a relatively common occurrence, they are rarely reported, as the victims do not want to risk shining a light on their own illegal activities.