Uruguay: “Express Kidnapping”

By Dialogo
August 10, 2010

Uruguayan society is concerned about a type of crime known as “express kidnapping,” which has burst onto the scene in the country with seven reported cases between the end of June and the beginning of August.

Even if “express kidnappings” are habitual in more violent countries in the region, such as Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, this type of crime is something new in Uruguay.

However, the series of kidnappings in a little more than a month has put the government on a state of alert, and the OAS has even proposed to assist the country by sending Colombian experts to advise the local police. The UN has also offered advice.

“Uruguay continues to be an exception in the region with regard to these crimes, and therefore neither the OAS nor the UN wants the situation to deteriorate,” Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi remarked.

The cases reported up to now follow a similar pattern: the crimes are committed by youths who accost their victims when the latter are in a parked a car or about to get into a car. Immediately, the thieves force the victims to drive them to ATM machines or to their residences in order to steal more money and property from them.

“It’s a complicated kind of crime, in general, because the kidnapper has not made a study of his victim in order to do this to him. It’s a matter of happenstance. The kidnapper sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it. For this reason, it’s not easy to prevent,” voanoticias.com was told by Fernando Andión, co-director of the Personal-Defense Training Center, an Uruguayan business that offers training in personal safety and protection to both civilians and police and military personnel.

Andión said that this type of crime did not use to take place in Uruguay, but criminals quickly realized that it is an effective formula for committing robbery without getting caught.

Nevertheless, he emphasized that unlike in Brazil and Argentina – Uruguay’s neighbors –, these kidnappers are not part of organized gangs.

“We’re very far from the levels of violence that exist in other countries in the world and in the region,” he affirmed. “Technically speaking, violence has increased very little in Uruguay in the last three years, perhaps more in the last ten years, but now these are things that are talked about more, and people are realizing that Uruguay is not the country it was ten years ago.”

The personal-safety expert acknowledged, nonetheless, that “we’re seeing things that didn’t exist before,” like express kidnappings, and that it is important to work on prevention in order to prevent an escalation in violence.

“We work a lot on training with Brazil and Argentina, and they tell us, ‘We hope that what happened to us doesn’t happen to you.’ There are signs that the same process that our neighbors experienced is occurring. It started like this, and the situation solidified,” he said.

Perceptions of insecurity on the rise
What is certain is that although the level of violence in Uruguay is still low, Uruguayans’ perceptions of insecurity are on the rise, and Andión is seeing the results in his business, where he is receiving many more requests for advice than before.

At his Personal-Defense Training Center – which is the Uruguayan representative of organizations such as C.A.T.I., from Brazil, S.O.G. International, from France, and I.S.A., from Israel – 120 “civilian” students have been trained so far this year. In the same period last year, 40 students were trained, and in the first year that the center was established, around 20.

At the beginning of this year, with the notorious kidnapping of Uruguayan businessman Ignacio Rospide – which was not an “express kidnapping,” since it lasted twenty-four hours – Andión said that the profile of the clients requesting his firm’s training course changed.

“Before the students were, the majority of them, from the middle and lower classes. They felt more exposed when they left work at night and had to walk to the bus stop,” he recounted.

“Now there are more businesspeople who are worried about their safety. They were some of the ones who used to say, ‘Nothing happens here,’ and they didn’t feel vulnerable, because they have alarms in their houses, guards, and get around by car. But now, with Rospide’s kidnapping, they’ve realized that it could happen to them.”

Prevention and recommendations
Andión recommended as a system of prevention that people stay alert and not expose themselves to certain risks.

“People should avoid walking in dark places where there is little traffic and should avoid staying inside a vehicle parked on the street, talking on their cellphones, for example. They should wait until they get home to talk on their cellphones. A moving car is more difficult to accost,” he explained.

If someone does become the victim of an express kidnapping, Andión said that “time should be in his favor in order to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”