Colombia is a serious traveler’s paradise. With dense Amazonian forests, remarkable beaches and white-powdered Andean peaks, the country has inspired visitors since before the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s. Vast stretches of land still remain untouched by modern civilization, so there’s plenty of mysteries yet to be discovered. Of course, they might have been discovered by now if it weren’t for Colombia’s bloody conflicts.
Colombia’s modern history has seen rebel groups vying for control. However, it wasn’t until the international demand for cocaine rose during the mid-20th century that rebel groups escalated the violence establishing Colombia as a destination synonymous with violence, corruption and kidnappings. The drug cartels earned most of the global infamy, but guerilla groups like the ELN, FARC and M-19 also greatly contributed to the chaos.
Of all their tactics used, kidnapping became the most important tool utilized by the groups to fund their agendas. The use of kidnappings became so prevalent it earned the country the title of Kidnapping Capital of the World. Since the beginning of the 1970s, the US State Department estimates more than 3,000 people were kidnapped per year. Most of those kidnapped were Colombians, but foreigners like Reini Weigel and Erez Eltawil (as seen in tonight episode of Locked Up Abroad: Colombian Kidnap) were targeted as well.
Besides money, capturing foreigners gave rebel groups a chance to obtain press exposure. After Reini, Erez and the rest of their group were kidnapped, their story was picked up by major media outlets and broadcast around the world. Their kidnappers (members of the ELN) were trying to call attention to human rights abuses occurring in the Sierra region by Colombian paramilitaries.
Regardless of the kidnappers’ intentions, the tactic did little to bring positive changes to the country. Plus, it left Reini, Erez and tens of thousands of others traumatized by the experience.
Since 2001, the Colombian government has improved security and reduced crime, which has led to a dramatic decline in the nation’s kidnappings. The tourism industry surged due to the increased safety, and those willing to give the country a chance find their travels quite fulfilling.
Still, it may take years for Colombia to overcome its terrible reputation. The threat of violence and kidnappings remains, so visitors are encouraged to use common sense to avoid any unnecessary risks. If you’re planning a trip, be sure to watched this week’s Locked Up Abroad for tips on how to avoid or endure a kidnapping.
- Colombia’s guerrilla groups have been weakened by government forces, but rural areas (especially around the Venezuela border) should still be avoided. If you absolutely must, travel in a group and/or hire armed protection.
- Bus travel should be avoided, as well, because rebel groups use road blocks to search for prospective victims.
- Colombia has some pretty treacherous terrain, so pack only what you need to endure the environment. If you’re headed to the jungle, bring mosquito repellent.
- Kidnappers need you alive to get what they want, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you need something. It’s recommended you not mock them, though.
- The day of your rescue will be a joyous event, but try not to look too happy when the Associated Press shows up to take pictures. You don’t want to make the wrong impression and look like you’re having a ball.
Tune in to Locked Up Abroad: Colombian Kidnap tonight at 10P et/pt