Extortion of businesses and individuals claims an estimated $1.1 billion annually, though the real income could be much higher, reported newspaper El Tiempo Wednesday.
An extensive investigation by the newspaper revealed the pervasiveness of the problem, and its increase in recent years. The number of reported extortion cases jumped 229% in the last four years, from 830 to 2,316.
However, unreported cases could easily exceed 10,000, considering that the police admit to prosecuting just one in five extortion cases.
Common criminals authored 83% of those cases, though many claimed an allegiance to a larger criminal network to scare their victims, whether or not such a link existed. The FARC account for 9% of extortion. Drug trafficking organizations like the Rastrojos and Urabeños claim just 6%.
Some store owners in southern Bogota are reportedly visited by members of the FARC asking $55 a month. In exchange their businesses they will not be dynamited. In Medellin, residents of the eastern Comuna 8, a district plagued by violence, must pay if they want to cross through certain areas to purchase food and other necessities. Across the country, oil companies, cattle ranchers, farmers, industry, mining companies must pay “immunity” in order to avoid violent attacks.
“Complaints of extortion are everywhere. People are tired of the extortion. There is no differentiation between owners of large stores and small shop owners. This crime has no boundaries and that is why the national government is working to fight it head on,” said Colonel Jose Angel Pirela, director of the army’s anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion unit (Gaula).
According to a study by the government statistics bureau (DANE) with more than 15,000 participants, 0.8% of the Colombian population was victim to extortion or attempted extortion. Another study shows that of extortion victims, just 21.3% reported the crime to the police.
The government’s official slogan is “Don’t pay, report.” The Gaula unit’s website recommends the following protocal for a recent victim of an extortion demand: “remain calm,” “contact the Gaula,” and never meet with an extortionist. The majority of victims are contacted by the criminals by telephone.
“Begin the search of suspects with laid-off employees, new employees, and debtors,” the website instructs.
- Extorsion: el azote de medio pais que mueve 2 billiones de pesos al año (El Tiempo)
- Extorsion en Colombia (El Tiempo)
- Encuesta de convivencia y seguridad ciudadana 2012 (DANE)
- Grupos Gaula (Ejercito)