MEXICO CITY -- Even amid an unprecedented rash of kidnappings in Mexico, the snatching of John Jairo Guzman stood out.
Assailants shoved the 41-year-old Colombian into a waiting vehicle in broad daylight on a recent Friday. Luckily, a passerby used a cellphone to make a video and posted it on YouTube. Within days, three of the assailants were identified as Mexico City policemen.
The officers are now fugitives. Their boss, a supervisor in the internal affairs unit tasked with cleaning up police corruption, denied knowledge of the crime.
But investigators tracked the GPS trail from his radio and his vehicle, putting him at the scene as well. Another video taken by a passerby later surfaced in which the chief’s vehicle is visible at the Sept. 20 crime scene. The supervisor is now jailed. Guzman, the victim, is still missing.
Guzman’s abduction is one of 1,205 kidnappings that had been reported this year in Mexico through the end of September, marking a sharp rise in such crimes. But since the vast majority of Mexican families refuse to report abductions to authorities – in part due to fear of police involvement or dread that criminals will exact revenge for reporting the crime – experts believe the reality is far worse than the official tally.
“The problem is, I would say, almost out of control,” said Juan Francisco Torres Landa, a Harvard-trained lawyer who is secretary general of Mexico United Against Crime, a pressure group.
Not only are kidnappings becoming much more common, abduction rings slay more of their victims after they receive a ransom payment than ever before.
“The only thing they want is to get their money,” said Jose Antonio Ortega Sanchez, president of the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, another advocacy group. Once payment is made, Ortega Sanchez said, “they just murder them.”
The spokesman for President Enrique Pena Nieto on crime issues, Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez, wasn’t available Thursday for comment, but he’s said previously that authorities have broken up 70 kidnapping rings this year, and that a TV and radio campaign of public service ads urging citizens to tip police to abductions was reaping results.
“At the end of the day, they have substantially increased reports of kidnapping and extortion in comparison to other administrations,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez noted, however, that many victims still fail to report kidnappings, and that the real level of abductions is a “black number,” or unknown.
A glimpse at the magnitude of the kidnapping surge came Sept. 30, when Mexico’s national statistics institute issued an annual report based on extensive house-to-house polling about how often citizens suffer from crime.
The survey found that just over 1 percent of those who’d suffered an abduction reported it to authorities. It estimated the number of kidnappings in the previous year to be 105,682. This includes not only lengthy abductions for ransom, but also what Mexicans term “express kidnappings,” in which victims are taken at knife- or gunpoint to ATMs and forced to withdraw cash and turn it over, usually going free after a few hours or a day.
The number also includes migrants taken hostage by organized crime as they travel toward the U.S. border and victims of “virtual kidnappings,” in which callers telephone residences, often at random. As screams erupt in the background, callers tell those answering that a child or loved one has just been snatched off the street and demand an immediate bank deposit or payoff.