The kidnapping of business executives is a growth industry in Latin America, thanks to increased opportunity, weak law enforcement and the continued disparity between poverty and wealth.
For Samuel Doria Medina, it was the worst experience of his 37-year life: 45 days in captivity outside of Bolivia's capital La Paz. Medina, a wealthy cement producer, former planning minister and owner of Bolivian newspaper Hoy, found inspiration in remembering a quote from The Bible he read in Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits: "Try to survive because in the end, we will all be dead."
"I'm probably 10 kilos lighter, 10 years more experienced and 25 times more inspired to work for my people, my country," the unshaven businessman told reporters after his release last December. Although he declined to confirm that he had paid a ransom, local media and businessmen reported that the kidnappers were paid about US$3 million. Shortly after his release, Bolivian authorities arrested at least six people in connection with the abduction, including several members of the Peruvian leftist guerrilla movement MRTA.
Although the kidnapping was unusual by Bolivian standards, Medina is in no way alone. Latin America last year saw at least 6,000 kidnappings, according to estimates by Kroll Associates, a New York-based security firm that among other things offers kidnapping and ransom advice to insurance companies and victims.
Increasingly, their targets are business executives.
Those figures rank Latin America as the most dangerous area in the world in terms of kidnapping, well ahead of the Middle East and Asia. Although kidnapping has long been on the rise in Latin America, the last five years' economic growth has boosted the opportunities for kidnappers as more local and foreign businessmen have come on the scene.
"People throughout Latin America are seeing kidnappings grow," says Richard Johnson, vice president of Miami-based insurance agent...
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