Security in Panama, Express Kidnapping
The Story Behind the Kidnappings in Panama
By Giovanni Caporaso*
A businessman from the Free Zone of Colon, of Arab origin, was kidnapped for various hours. A couple was assaulted by a group of subjects who demanded that they take money out of several ATMs. They may seem like separate stories, but they have something in common: kidnapping, one of the biggest worries for Panamanians.
Kidnappings in Panama have “evolved” – they have become such a serious phenomenon that the citizens and companies are using protection services offered by specialty companies more and more and with greater frequency. The “evolution” arises because, although “traditional” kidnappings still exists – as in mafia organizations that take people prisoner and force them to pay a high ransom – lately the most common cases have been “express” kidnappings.
“Traditional” kidnappings are generally directed towards politicians, millionaires, or influential people.
However, “express” kidnappings are different, since anybody can be a victim of groups that aren’t well organized nor very powerful, but still quite dangerous. These criminal methods aim to obtain money quickly and promptly; they kidnappers don’t always ask for high ransom. The quantity of this type of kidnapping, and also of the “traditional” ones, has increased in Panama. In 2006, 11 kidnappings were reported, a year later the police reported 27 and then 40 in 2008; in 2009 they haven’t divulged the statistics.
Before this indisputable reality, arises a question for the citizens: How do we protect ourselves? It is clear that the government doesn’t have the resources to guarantee security. Furthermore, each one of us and the companies have to adopt necessary measures to protect ourselves from kidnappings.
From an institutional point of view, the banks can adopt methods like the installation of ATMs that recognize the biometrics of one’s iris. In these ATMs, if a person places the opposite eye (the right or the left) from which they initially set up their contract, then a message is sent to alert the police and, in this way, they can avoid assault or, at the very least, help to capture criminals more quickly.
Another possible method for the government could be to infiltrate the most dangerous criminal groups that operate in certain Panamanian neighborhoods. They could provide valuable information to the authorities. There is one problem, however – Panamanian authorities are obligated to change every five years and therefore, this continual change isn’t helpful because it causes investigative institutions to become weak entities that don’t inspire trust from the international security organizations.
It would also be interesting if the multinational corporations that invest Panama, created security manuals, training courses in basic and advanced security for local and international personnel. To create these manuals and courses, help could be provided by prestigious security companies in Panama, which have the necessary resources and, above all, know how the country really is.
Perhaps for some contracting with security companies seems like a costly processes, but then another question arises: Aren’t people’s lives more valuable? Kidnappings continue to occur, living behind them emotional baggage for those kidnapped and also, in some cases, financial damage for people or companies that must pay the ransom. For this reason, any method used to stop extortion will always be well received.
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