Colombia Wages Successful Battle against Kidnapping

By Dialogo
February 16, 2015




Cooperative efforts by the Colombian National Army, National Police, and civilian agencies have reduced kidnappings in Colombia by more than 90 percent over the past 14 years, according to statistics compiled by the nation’s anti-kidnapping agency.

In 2000, a reported 3,572 people were kidnapped, or almost ten people per day, according to statistics from by the Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion Directorate of the Colombian National Police.

In 2014, however, the annual number of kidnappings for ransom or political/terrorist purposes dropped to below 300, the directorate reported, a figure that has remained roughly constant over the past three years.

Fewer abductions by terrorist groups


In addition to the sharp decline in the number of kidnappings, statistics show that the nature of kidnapping in Colombia has changed dramatically over the past one-and-a-half decades.

In 2000, anti-government terrorist groups such the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) were responsible for the majority of the nation’s kidnappings, often setting up roadblocks in rural areas and kidnapping people en masse.

In recent years, however, common criminals are believed to have been responsible for about 75 percent of all kidnappings in Colombia. Meanwhile, guerrilla groups such as the FARC, which has officially sworn off kidnapping as a tactic, are blamed for only about 23 percent of the cases.

Another dramatic change in the nature of kidnapping in Colombia is that victims are being rescued or released much more quickly than in the past.

In 2000, kidnapping victims were routinely held in captivity for years. In 2014, however, about 190 kidnapping victims -- more than half the annual total -- were held hostage for 30 days or less, with the majority of them held for only one or two days.

GAULAs are a key component of anti-kidnapping strategy


Colombia’s successful fight against kidnapping is attributable to a number of factors, according to a report on personal freedom between 2011-2014 by the Colombian Ministry of Defense.

They include new laws that increase penalties for kidnapping; programs to enhance public awareness and citizen cooperation in reporting kidnappings; increased resources for courts and prosecutors to prosecute kidnappers; and increased government control of rural areas by security forces to deny organized kidnapping groups freedom of movement, among other factors.

According to the report, one key element in the battle against kidnapping was the creation of elite, highly-trained, anti-kidnapping teams known as Unified Action Groups for Personal Freedom, or GAULAs in Spanish.

First created in 1996, GAULA units now amount to 33 operational units in Colombia. Sixteen of those are under Army command, while another two are under Navy command, together comprising about 1,200 officers.

Another 15 GAULA units are under the command of the National Police. Both Military and National Police units are under the overall command of the Ministry of Defense.

Although Military and National Police GAULA units work closely together, the Military GAULA units generally operate in remote, rugged, and rural areas, while National Police GAULA units generally do so in metropolitan areas. But both Military and police GAULA officers work closely with the Prosecutor General's Office and the Administrative Department of Security (DAS).

Regardless of which they fall under, all GAULA groups are elite units whose personnel have received extensive training in both urban and rural combat, crisis management, weapons training, specialized instruction for snipers and breachers, raids, detention methods, and intelligence-gathering.

Kidnapping victims rescued and released


Still, most of the GAULA units’ work involves ordinary people who have fallen victim to kidnappers. For example, in December, 2014, an Army GAULA unit assisted by Army Troops launched an operation to rescue a local prosecutor who had been kidnapped by unknown assailants in Cauca Department. Given the pressure from the GAULA operation, the kidnappers released their victim unharmed the next day.

In another recent incident in November, 2014, GAULA troops rescued a 74-year-old agricultural engineer who had been kidnapped in the northern Department of Tolima by common criminals who demanded a large ransom. Acting on intelligence from local residents, the GAULA troops found the victim unharmed in two days.

In all, GAULA units rescued or assisted in the rescues of 84 kidnapping victims in 2014, according to the anti-kidnapping directorate, while almost 600 kidnappers were apprehended. Another 133 kidnapped victims were released by their captors, 16 died in captivity, 11 were freed under pressure from security forces and nine escaped on their own, according to Ministry of Defense statistics.

But the GAULAs’ successes against kidnappers have not come without cost. Since 2005, GAULA units have lost 28 officers killed in the line of duty.

Praise for the Army and National Police


The Army and the National Police deserve much of the credit for reducing kidnappings throughout the country, according to Yadira Gálvez, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

"This remarkable change in the reduction of kidnapping in Colombia is very important, it is a result of the increasingly strong presence of security forces of both the National Police and the Army," in areas where the FARC, the ELN, and other illegal groups have been active, Gálvez said.





Cooperative efforts by the Colombian National Army, National Police, and civilian agencies have reduced kidnappings in Colombia by more than 90 percent over the past 14 years, according to statistics compiled by the nation’s anti-kidnapping agency.

In 2000, a reported 3,572 people were kidnapped, or almost ten people per day, according to statistics from by the Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Extortion Directorate of the Colombian National Police.

In 2014, however, the annual number of kidnappings for ransom or political/terrorist purposes dropped to below 300, the directorate reported, a figure that has remained roughly constant over the past three years.

Fewer abductions by terrorist groups


In addition to the sharp decline in the number of kidnappings, statistics show that the nature of kidnapping in Colombia has changed dramatically over the past one-and-a-half decades.

In 2000, anti-government terrorist groups such the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) were responsible for the majority of the nation’s kidnappings, often setting up roadblocks in rural areas and kidnapping people en masse.

In recent years, however, common criminals are believed to have been responsible for about 75 percent of all kidnappings in Colombia. Meanwhile, guerrilla groups such as the FARC, which has officially sworn off kidnapping as a tactic, are blamed for only about 23 percent of the cases.

Another dramatic change in the nature of kidnapping in Colombia is that victims are being rescued or released much more quickly than in the past.

In 2000, kidnapping victims were routinely held in captivity for years. In 2014, however, about 190 kidnapping victims -- more than half the annual total -- were held hostage for 30 days or less, with the majority of them held for only one or two days.

GAULAs are a key component of anti-kidnapping strategy


Colombia’s successful fight against kidnapping is attributable to a number of factors, according to a report on personal freedom between 2011-2014 by the Colombian Ministry of Defense.

They include new laws that increase penalties for kidnapping; programs to enhance public awareness and citizen cooperation in reporting kidnappings; increased resources for courts and prosecutors to prosecute kidnappers; and increased government control of rural areas by security forces to deny organized kidnapping groups freedom of movement, among other factors.

According to the report, one key element in the battle against kidnapping was the creation of elite, highly-trained, anti-kidnapping teams known as Unified Action Groups for Personal Freedom, or GAULAs in Spanish.

First created in 1996, GAULA units now amount to 33 operational units in Colombia. Sixteen of those are under Army command, while another two are under Navy command, together comprising about 1,200 officers.

Another 15 GAULA units are under the command of the National Police. Both Military and National Police units are under the overall command of the Ministry of Defense.

Although Military and National Police GAULA units work closely together, the Military GAULA units generally operate in remote, rugged, and rural areas, while National Police GAULA units generally do so in metropolitan areas. But both Military and police GAULA officers work closely with the Prosecutor General's Office and the Administrative Department of Security (DAS).

Regardless of which they fall under, all GAULA groups are elite units whose personnel have received extensive training in both urban and rural combat, crisis management, weapons training, specialized instruction for snipers and breachers, raids, detention methods, and intelligence-gathering.

Kidnapping victims rescued and released


Still, most of the GAULA units’ work involves ordinary people who have fallen victim to kidnappers. For example, in December, 2014, an Army GAULA unit assisted by Army Troops launched an operation to rescue a local prosecutor who had been kidnapped by unknown assailants in Cauca Department. Given the pressure from the GAULA operation, the kidnappers released their victim unharmed the next day.

In another recent incident in November, 2014, GAULA troops rescued a 74-year-old agricultural engineer who had been kidnapped in the northern Department of Tolima by common criminals who demanded a large ransom. Acting on intelligence from local residents, the GAULA troops found the victim unharmed in two days.

In all, GAULA units rescued or assisted in the rescues of 84 kidnapping victims in 2014, according to the anti-kidnapping directorate, while almost 600 kidnappers were apprehended. Another 133 kidnapped victims were released by their captors, 16 died in captivity, 11 were freed under pressure from security forces and nine escaped on their own, according to Ministry of Defense statistics.

But the GAULAs’ successes against kidnappers have not come without cost. Since 2005, GAULA units have lost 28 officers killed in the line of duty.

Praise for the Army and National Police


The Army and the National Police deserve much of the credit for reducing kidnappings throughout the country, according to Yadira Gálvez, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

"This remarkable change in the reduction of kidnapping in Colombia is very important, it is a result of the increasingly strong presence of security forces of both the National Police and the Army," in areas where the FARC, the ELN, and other illegal groups have been active, Gálvez said.


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