Kidnapping statistics show that you’re more likely to be kidnapped in Mexico, Ecuador or Venezuela than in Colombia. Read this article, get over the fear and paranoia, then visit Colombia!
There’s no doubt that 8 years ago, kidnapping was a common problem in Colombia. The country has yet to shake off that bad image. It’s a shame because many people mistakenly believe that Colombia is a dangerous country to visit, primarily because they imagine that there’s still lots of kidnappings. This really isn’t true, as I’ll demonstrate with some authorative statistics (see the end of the article for links to all sources).
First take a look at how kidnapping has declined in recent years in Colombia.
Click to enlarge the above graph [source -IKV PAX Christi].
This graph shows how the numbers of people kidnapped in Colombia has drastically reduced from 3572 in the year 2000, to 521 in 2007. [Note that many of those kidnapped years ago are sadly still held in captivity - let us not forget them.]
For the years previous to 2007, “express kidnappings” (defined as brief kidnappings where victims are usually held for a period of hours and frogmarched to cash-points by common criminals) were not included in these statistics (from 2007 onwards, these type of kidnappings are included in the above data). Throughout Latin America, express kidnappings are a rare but increasing problem - note that most countries do not categorize express kidnappings the same as economic kidnappings (where victims are kidnapped for a randsom or political purpose and held for an extended period of time).
For the year 2007, there were 230 kidnappings in Colombia if “express kidnappings” are not taken into account. In Venezuela, there were 297 similar kidnappings in 2007. Venezuela had more kidnappings in 2007 than Colombia. Very few people worry about visiting Venezuela for fear of being kidnapped do they? Likewise people should not fear travelling to Colombia if they look at the statistics.
Taking both a more regional and global view of kidnapping statistics also demonstrates how Colombia’s bad image in terms of kidnappings is now totally unwarranted.
The IVK PAX study of worldwide kidnappings offer the “Worldwide Kidnapping League Table 2006″ offering estimates of the absolute number of kidnappings as follows.
4. South Africa
To make it clear, the above is a list (or “league table”) of countries ranked by the number of kidnappings they experienced in 2006. In 2006, Mexico had more kidnappings than any other country in the world. The list makes fascinating reading, but perhaps even more interesting is the following list “Worldwide kidnapping league table 2006 - estimated number of kidnaps per capita of population”. This following list takes into account population size when ranking countries in terms of the number of kidnappings. So where is one most likely to be kidnapped in the world?:
3. The Chechen Republic
7. South Africa
8. Trinidad & Tobago
In terms of Latin American countries, there are more kidnappings per person in Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela compared to Colombia. When you look at the statistics, it becomes obvious that Colombia’s “bad image” is now rather unwarranted. Yet so many people are still scared to travel to the country.
A lot of people fear that because they are a foreigner or “gringo”, they are a target for kidnapping in Colombia. Looking in depth at the kidnapping statistics in Colombia shows that there is little to fear. The following details the number of “foreigners” kidnapped in Colombia over recent years, starting from 2000 (when kidnappings in Colombia reached their peak):
2000 - 37
2001 - 43
2002 - 29
2003 - 26
2004 - 2
2005 - 2
2006 - 4
2007 onwards - currently no data.
[Source - Pais Libre]
It is easy to see where Colombia’s “bad image” came from - it’s also quite easy to point out that that bad image is no longer really warranted. In 2003, Colombia had 625,000 “international visitors”, in 2004 that figure was 791,000, and in 2005 Colombia received 933,000 tourists [Americas - Tourism Market Trends 2006 edition, published by the World Tourism Organisation]. If you do your own maths you’ll see that very few foreigners or international tourists have been kidnapped recently.
Most visitors to Colombia come from USA. Many such “gringos” imagine themselves to be prime targets for kidnapping and mistakenly believe that they are a high risk of being kidnapped while in Colombia. That actual statistics prove otherwise. During the three years of 2004, 2005 and 2006, just two US citizens were kidnapped in Colombia [source - Pais Libre]. During this period over 650,000 US citizens visited the country. You can see that the chances really are very low.
Colombia’s security situation has dramatically improved over recent years making the country much safer. Huge sums of money have been pumped into the military, and a tough, non-negiotiating stance by Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe means that the FARC are being beaten back into the depths of the jungles.
Having said this it’s important to note that some smalls bits of Colombia are more dangerous than others. It’s wise to take local and (your own nation’s) governmental advice if visiting Colombia. The majority of the country is regarded as perfectly safe to visit, including all the major tourist destinations and almost all of the Caribbean coastline. Generally, tourists are advised not to visit certain border regions with Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama, but if you want detailed advice visit the UK FCO website which offers specific, regional advice about where is safe to visit.
In all of these countries mentioned - Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador & Venezuela - the risk of kidnapping is very small. From personal experience of having visited them all, I’d suggest that you’re far more likely to be killed in a vehicle accident than kidnapped in any of these countries. Push the unwarranted paranoia to one side and enjoy your travels!
Fundacion Pais Libre - data specific to Colombia.
IKV Pax Christi - NGO & Peace movement based in Netherlands, offering data and statistics specific to the world.
Colombia’s Presidents website - statistics on the dramatic reduction in crimes committed by the FARC.