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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 Seitlin & Company, which represents a number of Latin American families. "The multinationals are manna from heaven." At the same time, traditional patterns of weak, inefficient and corrupt law enforcement and significant disparity in wealth distribution have further motivated a surge in kidnappings across the region.
Kidnappers run few legal risks. The Latin American rate of arrests of kidnappers is practically the opposite of the United States, where more than 95% of the kidnappers are brought to justice, security consultants say. "The ability of police to deal with kidnapping is about non-existent," says Johnson. "It's a good way to make money. Few get caught."
Part of the problem is that victims often refuse to cooperate with local police or authorities, fearing that law enforcement officials are in cahoots with the criminals or that rescue attempts will be bungled. "Seventy-nine percent of all hostages are killed during rescue attempts in Latin America," says Kroll deputy chairman Brian Jenkins.
Jenkins uses a pyramid model to describe the victims. The bulk is small businessmen and ranchers in rural areas. "Their presence and movements are easily monitored, they're not likely to have security and not likely to contact authorities," he says. Higher on the pyramid are nationally prominent local businessmen and local managers of foreign multinationals.
At the top, numbering only a small percentage of cases a year, are expatriates. Yet several experts warn that the smaller numbers for ex-pats occur not because they are less attractive as victims, but because the security measures they have taken are generally better than the other victim groups.
"Kidnapping's definitely a major concern for multinationals," says Kenneth Stephens, kidnapping and ransom product manager of Chubb & Son. "Everyone is at risk." Especially prone to kidnapping are foreign executives in the oil and energy sectors in rural areas, Jenkins says. The kidnappers range from street thugs in Rio who randomly snatch someone in a supermarket for as little as $100 to well-organized criminal gangs comprised of leftist guerrillas, drug traffickers and even corrupt policemen.
The undisputed king of kidnapping is Colombia, which saw at least 4,000 abductions last year, according to estimates by Kroll. "In Colombia, kidnapping is incredibly well-organized," says Johnson. Local and foreign experts estimate that more than half of all kidnappings are carried out by the two leftist guerrilla movements, FARC and ELN, and members of the former M-19 guerrilla movement. Often, though, the guerrillas get blamed unju
Quotes talked about in this paper
Terminology mentioned in this paper
kidnappings, Latin American, insurance companies,
Names mentioned in this essay
Brian Jenkins, Kroll, Richard Johnson, Chubb, Johnson, Samuel Doria Medina, Harp, Joao Antonio de Quiroz Galvao, Kenneth Stephens, Isabel Allende, Hoy, Kroll deputy, Carlos Salinas, Giovanni Cesama Vitaly, Cassidy Davis, Cassidy Davis Hiscox, Seitlin, Sheryl Gomez, Thomas Hargrove, Dean O'Hare,
Organizations talked about in this term paper
the kidnappers, NAFTA,
Locations mentioned in this paper
Latin America, the most-expensive country, a major problem, Bolivia, Mexico, United States, La Paz, Panama, Asia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Miami-based, a favorite spot, Middle East, Guatemala City, Cali, Mexico City, Medina, Peru,
Companies talked about in this essay
a New York-based security firm, Skanska, Seitlin & Company, AIG, Control Risks Group,
Keywords mentioned in this essay
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