Monday, February 2, 2015

Colombia's Lesson for the Middle East

A FARC guerrilla and kidnappees behind barbed wire.
In 1983, ELN guerrillas kidnapped four executives of the German oil company Mannesmann. The company didn't forget about its employees. It sent representatives who purchased the freedom of the four for a reported $8 million, half in cash and the other half to be paid in social investments in the region (which the company never fulfilled). The quadruple kidnapping may have saved the ELN, which at the time was down to just a few hundred fighters, but survives today with some 3,000.

Annual kidnappings in Colombia declined until
recently, when numbers leveled off.
(Image from Paise Libre)
That crime was far from Colombia's first kidnapping - or its last. Armed guerrilla groups began kidnapping as a business practice soon after their appearance in the 1960s. When the crime proved profitable economically and politically, the guerrillas and common criminal groups accelerated the practice thru the '90s and into the early 2000's. Numbers soared to several thousand kidnappings each year (and many kidnappings are never reported to authorities). Only in the last few years, with government military successes and the FARC guerrillas' promise to stop kidnapping, have the numbers declined.

Still, in 2014 outlaw groups kidnapped 245 during just the first eight months of the year, and probably many more unreported ones. Even if the FARC and ELN guerrillas sign peace agreements with the government and give up kidnappings forever, undoubtedly other criminal groups will kidnap more.

Repeating a pattern? A Japanese man kidnapped
by the Islamic State.
In Iraq and Syria today, the Islamic State is using kidnapping to finance itself and gain a horrific kind of attention. It works for them because many European nations pay millions of euros or dollars for their citizens' freedom. (The major exceptions are Great Britain and the United States.) But that's a devil's bargain: The ransom money only serves to strengthen the terrorists, enabling them to kidnap more Westerners and strengthen themselves further.

The nations paying terrorists for their citizens' freedom should look toward Colombia, where the practice reaped only more kidnappings, and decades of violence.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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