AMERICA – NORTH
4 June During a conference at el Colegio de Mexico, Renato Sales Heredia, el coordinador nacional Antisecuestro, confirmed that the administration of President Felipe Calderon had pursued an unsuccessful strategy against criminals who carry out crimes of maximum impact such as homicides and kidnappings. He said that kidnapping has increased 410% between 2005 and 2012 from 278 reported cases to 1,418 cases. In 2013 there were 1,698 reported cases, the highest number recorded since the creation of el Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Publica in 1997, and there were 1,395 in 2014. To date in 2015, 345 cases have been reported.
12 June At the 17th Reunion Nacional de Planeacion y Analisis Estrategico para el Combate al Delito de Secuestro attended by various government authorities and members of las Unidades Especializadas contra el Secuestro, Renato Sales Heredia, el Coordinador Nacional Antisecuestro, said that kidnapping was being contained in the country. He said that there had been 354 reported incidents of kidnapping between January and April 2015 compared with 553 over the same period in 2014, a reduction of 35%. He added that this reflected the improvement in cooperation between all the agencies fighting kidnapping.
17 June Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, el Secretario de Gobernacion, said that after one year of the implementation of the national anti-kidnapping strategy good results have been achieved. There has been a marked reduction in the number of reported kidnapping incidents.
17 June During a meeting with businessmen in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas State, Willy Zuniga Castillo, el titular de la Coordinacion Estatal Antisecuestros, said that to date in 2015 there have been 62 reported kidnappings and between 50 and 60 of the victims have been released unharmed. About 15 cases are still ongoing.
22 June In a meeting with activists fighting kidnapping, Eruviel Avila Villegas, gobernador del Estado de Mexico, provided details of the progress with the establishing of specialist anti-kidnapping units in the state. The unit in Tlainepantia was inaugurated in November 2014, a second unit in Valle de Chalco is 50% complete and a third unit is planned for Valle de Mexico. To date in 2015 there have been 83 reported kidnapping incidents in el Estado de Mexico, six more than during the same period in 2014. The state has the seventh highest number of kidnappings in the country this year.
24 June Isabel Miranda de Wallace, President of Alto al Secuestro, said that during May there were 139 reported kidnapping incidents, an increase of 0.7% on the figure for April. During May, the highest number of reported cases where in estado de Mexico (27), Tamaulipas (20), Distrito Federal (16), Veracruz (13), Guerrero (12) and Tabasco (10). She added that there had been a reduction of 36.99% in the number of reported kidnappings for the first five months of 2015 when compared to the same period in 2014. However, she said that the efforts of the authorities have been insufficient.
24 June Hugo de la Cruz, a regional manager of the PepsiCo food and beverage company in Guerrero State, was kidnapped by hooded gunmen as he was travelling with his driver in a company vehicle to Ciudad Altamirano. The kidnappers had set up a false checkpoint just outside the city of Teloloapan. They released the driver who informed the authorities about the incident. The kidnappers forced the victim out of his vehicle and took him away.
29 June Rodolfo Fernando Rios Garza, el titular de la Procuraduria General de Justicia del Distrito Federal (PGJDF), said at a press conference that there have been 20 reported kidnapping cases in Mexico City since the start of 2015. He added that six kidnapping gangs have been disbanded consisting of 61 alleged kidnappers and 21 of 22 kidnapping victims have been successfully released.
1 June According to senior officials in President Obama’s administration, the review of its hostage policy is nearing completion and is expected to be released this month. The review was launched in December 2014 and results are likely to prompt “critical” changes to the way the government is organised to respond when an American is taken hostage overseas, a source said. During the six months since the launch of the review, members from the Departments of Defence, State, Justice, Treasury and then intelligence community have been meeting to provide recommendations to President Obama on where the government’s hostage [policy can be improved.
25 June Jo Lewis, sister of Free Methodist Reverend Phyllis Sortor (72), who was kidnapped from her church academy compound in Emiworo, Kogi State, Nigeria, in February and released 12 days later, said that she and a senior church official had been shepherded through the hostage response process, but not the ransom negotiation, by Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Department officials. This was a process aligned with a new policy laid out by President Obama on 24 June. This new approach was drawn up over six months ago after complaints by families that their efforts to free relatives had been discouraged and sometimes blocked by officials who threatened legal action if they raised a ransom privately. The new approach allows: “communication with hostage takers by our government (US), the families of hostages or third parties who help these families”. She added that federal officials monitored the process but left the ransom negotiations to an outside negotiator, and provided frequent updates. The officials joined conference calls including one with more than 100 participants and half a dozen federal agents in her living room. She declined to say how much ransom was paid but said it was considerably less than the USD300,000 originally demanded.
27 June During the week that President Obama announced a shift in the US policy on handling hostage incidents, White House security adviser, Lisa Monaco, revealed that “more than 30” Americans are still being held around the world. The figure had not been disclosed previously and the announcement served as a reminder that despite a number of high-profile incidents in which US citizens have been kidnapped and sometimes killed, the kidnapping of Americans remains a widespread – and often under-reported – international phenomenon. According to a senior administration official, those 30 hostages include several people held by terrorist groups, but the majority have been kidnapped for ransom by criminals. The official declined to give further details out of concern for the safety of hostages.
29 June More details of the new US policy on handling hostage incidents were revealed after a meeting between President Obama and the families of four US hostages who lost their lives in Syria. He promised that American families who pay ransoms would not be prosecuted for providing material support to terrorist groups. He said that government negotiators would, for the first time, engage in direct talks with kidnappers. He pledged that US intelligence officials would try to maximise the amount of intelligence information shared with families. In a series of organisational changes, an Official Hostage Response Group has been established and will meet at the National Security Council to review the status of hostage cases. The State Department will have a new senior official, a special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, to push for aid from local governments. The FBI will house an inter-agency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell of experts from across government who will try to resolve cases. The President said there will be no change in the longstanding US policy of not paying ransoms.
AMERICA – SOUTH
11 June The Manager of a bank branch in Campina Grande, Paraiba, was kidnapped at around 7:00pm on the night of 10 June by two men. The kidnappers took him to his residence and held him hostage with his wife and two children. The kidnappers demanded money and continually threatened the Bank Manager even threatening to tie explosives to his body. On the morning of 11 June, the kidnappers released the victim’s wife and two children in a remote place. The victim was released some hours later but there was no information if a ransom had been paid.
12 June A man was arrested accused of being involved in the kidnapping of the Treasurer of the Caixa Economica Federal Agency in Rio Comprido and his wife who also works for the Agency, on 11 June. The kidnappers demanded that the Treasurer withdraw money from the Agency. The couple were released on 12 June but it is not known if any money was paid.
24 June The Bauru, Sao Paulo, police have established a special group to combat “virtual kidnapping” which are scams where criminals call a victim simulating the kidnapping or rape of a close relative, normally a child. According to the police, 99% of the calls originate from prisons but the blocking of mobile signals in prisons has not happened. The amount demanded is usually around BRL 10,000 (USD3,000).
4 June Daniela, the 11 year old daughter of el director de la Unidad Nacional de Proteccion (UNP), Diego Fernando Mora, was kidnapped in Cucuta, Norte de Santander. According to initial reports, the armoured vehicle in which the young girl was travelling, was intercepted by unidentified persons at around 6:00pm as she left school and was being driven towards the metropolitan area of Cucuta. The girl’s driver was later found in El Zulia, about 15 minutes drive from Cucuta. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of Col$500 million (USD198,000). Daniela was released by her kidnappers on 7 June. On 19 June, el Gaula de la Policia arrested three Penaranda brothers in connection with the kidnapping. One of the brothers had Col$17,550,000 (USD7,000) in four packets with Banco de Republica seals dated 5 June 2015.
9 June Luis Andulfo Vega Sanguino, a lawyer and father of two employees of el Sistema de Defensoria Publica, was kidnapped at Carmen de Tonchala on the outskirts of Cucuta, when he went to meet with two supposed clients. According to reports, he went to the meeting with his wife and one son and was kidnapped by heavily armed men. His wife and son were released after a few hours. At the time of the report, the kidnappers had not been in contact with the family.
29 June The Commander of the Army’s Third Brigade said that Diego Alejandro Jimenez, an employee of Cafe Redes Ingeneria working as a contractor with Gases de Occidente, had been kidnapped by three armed men who appeared to have been members of the ELN guerrilla group. The victim was driving during the afternoon from Cartago to El Cairo on the border between Valle de Cauca and Choco departments.
16 June Police sources reported that Milvana Salomone, a gynaecologist, was released by her kidnappers at around 7:00am on la Ruta 32 close to kilometre 33 on the outskirts of Montevideo, after being kidnapped on 17 May while driving from Florida to her home in Montevideo. Julio Guarteche, el Director Nacional de la Policia, said that 13 people had been arrested in connection with the kidnapping incident. He added that they were all members of the most organised kidnapping gang in the country at present. The police had managed to recover almost all the USD300,000 that the victim’s family had paid as a ransom.
8 June Eight agents from la Policia Nacional Bolivariana (PNB) were jailed for allegedly kidnapping a customs officer aged 32 years in La Guaira. The eight agents claimed they were carrying out intelligence gathering with their victim who denied their claims and said he had been kidnapped.
19 June Manuel Tangir, el director de Seguridad Ciudadana de Alcaldia de Baruta, announced that la Policia Municipal de Baruta had dismantled a kidnapping for ransom gang that had been operating in Caracas and specifically in the zones of Chulavista, El Cafetal and Prados del Este of the municipality of Baruta. The gang are alleged to have been responsible for at least ten kidnappings since April 2015.
24 June According to figures released by the Ministry of Interior, “secuestro express” is one of the four most common crimes in the country along with homicide, theft and car theft. It is estimated that there are tens of cases weekly in Caracas alone. Police sources said that gangs usually kidnap and release victims the same night and demand up to USD50,000 ransom. Because of the local issues with foreign monetary exchange, gangs often make ransom demands in USD and Euros for amounts up to USD10,000. For higher amounts they will accept Bolivares. One businessman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that he was held for 3 days while his family negotiated a payment of 900,000 Bolivares (approximately USD3,600 at the black market rate). The kidnappers knew the time that his children arrived at and left college, where his wife worked and the name of the banks where he had accounts. Since his release, the gang have called him every two weeks threatening him if he does not pay a “vacuna” (protection money). A criminal lawyer said that kidnapping cases had increased by 300% since 2009. The only official figures available from the 2014 Annual Report of la Fiscalia state that there were 599 reported cases in 2014.
26 June Family members of Jaime Carrera (68), a businessman of Spanish origin, denounced his kidnapping along with two employees 22 days earlier in San Sebastian, Aragua province. His sister, Marcelina Carrera, who lives with her husband in Gondomar, Spain, explained that the family had paid the kidnappers a ransom close to that they had demanded but her brother had not been released and they had not received any news from the kidnappers. The victim was kidnapped on 3 June from a farm in San Sebastien.