Kidnapping Statistics - Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador & Venezuela More Prone than Colombia

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.

Graph showing kidnapping rates 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.

1. Mexico
2. Iraq
3. India
4. South Africa
5. Brazil
6. Pakistan
7. Ecuador
8. Venezuela
9. Colombia
10. Bangladesh
11. Nigeria
12. Haiti
13. Afganistan.

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?:

1. Iraq
2. Mexico
3. The Chechen Republic
4. Ecuador
5. Brazil
6. Haiti
7. South Africa
8. Trinidad & Tobago
9. Venezuela
10. Colombia
11. India.

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.

Further Reading:

Colombia’s Presidents website - statistics on the dramatic reduction in crimes committed by the FARC.

8 Responses to “Kidnapping Statistics - Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador & Venezuela More Prone than Colombia”

  1. Steven Dennis Gonzalez on April 19th, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Thank you for this i am writing my spanish oral A2 exam about how the stereotype of colombia is not true in reality. i think many more people should know about these stats

  2. In order to make the statistics relevant, you should have normalized on the number of visits to each country. Brazil has got a lot more tourists each year than Colombia does…

  3. I visited four years ago Bogota and I had lots of fun beautiful city I din’t feel unsaved and people are very nice I loved their service at restaurants, hotel and every place we went. The statistics shows our experince in Colombia. This year I’m planing to go to Cartagena Santa Marta and Gorgona, this information help me very much to go to these cities and especially I’m very interesting in visiting Gorgona Island, sounds very exited.

  4. You may want to look at more news articles and updated sources. Crime was decreasing drastically until around 2008 or 2009. However, certain cities, such as Cali and Medellin are becoming more unsafe once again. In 2008 or 2009, the murder rate in medellin DOUBLED from the year before.

  5. V. true F - the murder rate has increased a lot in Medellin recently - my understanding is that it’s drug gang war related - people getting killed in the very poor barrios of the city, rather than the more pleasant parts of town. ?

  6. “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.”

    From what I hear bus’ are very dangerous as a means of transportation between cities. I’ll be visiting Colombia for a month in September. Do you have any data or sources on the safety of bus travel in Colombia? What specifically has been your experience with the Colombian bus system? Any advice?

  7. Tyler - didn’t mean to scare you about the buses! But everyone does drive terribly in Colombia. Taxi drivers are equally mad drivers. Best to fly! Where did you hear that buses are “very dangerous” in Colombia though? I don’t see why - if there’s a crash, it’ll be the car that gets mangled not the bus! Don’t fret - just consider it!

  8. My family (wife and 2 children age 14 and 10)and I are planning a 4 day trip to cartagena whilst staying in Miami next year.

    I was worried about kidnapping thinking a british family may be a target but from the article it does appear we should be relatively safe? any kidnapping statistics for foreigners in Cartagena?

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