This contrasts with previous patterns where kidnappings were more prevalent in border provinces.
Over the past two years, Ecuador has experienced a total of 63 reported cases of kidnappings, with 32 cases occurring in 2021 and 31 cases occurring in 2022. These statistics highlight a concerning trend in the country and raise concerns about the effectiveness of current security measures.
While it is too early to assess if there has been an increase in 2023, kidnapping cases have become more public, largely due to social media reports.
In late February 2023, the Anti-kidnapping and Extortion Unit (UNASE) rescued four victims in Guayaquil in two separate incidents. Two young women, Estefanía Ávila and Angie Asang were kidnapped on the same day in the Sauces citadel in the north of Guayaquil.
Estefanía was found on Monday night, February 27, near the Tierra Blanca compound in the Daule canton. While Ávila’s family say that they did not receive any ransom demands for Estefanía, the kidnappers demanded $50,000 for the release of Angie Asang.
However, the family couldn’t make the payment, and the victim was found alive and well the following morning. The kidnappers forced the victims to make phone calls to their relatives to request payment, saying that they had been involved in an accident and needed money.
Another case involved two Ecuadorian migrants with US nationality, Aarón and Fausto, who were kidnapped in a high-end vehicle in Las Orquídeas, north of Guayaquil.
The kidnappers later abandoned the vehicle, which was found burnt out in the suburb of the city. UNASE rescued both young men on the same day they were kidnapped, with Aarón being found on the Terminal Terrestre highway, and Fausto in a building on Mount Sinai.
UNASE also arrested a minor in the incident.
Middle class becomes target
According to Héctor Franco, the national head of UNASE, kidnappings have mutated and now target middle-class people.
The kidnappers no longer target the wealthy, as they are more difficult to kidnap given their security means. Instead, kidnappers are going after people who can pay small amounts in a few installments.
Franco added that the kidnappers do not have pre-selected profiles and instead go out to look for victims, like a taxi driver looking for passengers. Franco also ruled out the idea that the recent cases were linked to white slavery networks.
Moisés M., the minor who was arrested for the kidnapping of Aarón and Fausto, had previously been arrested for kidnapping a merchant and his daughter in June 2022.
On that charge he was only given ‘socio-educational measures’ by a judge, but did not comply with them, leading to a warrant being issued for his arrest. Franco said that kidnappers continue to use minors as weapons because they usually released by the justice system.
Kidnappers are hunting
Franco also warned that people should avoid being on public roads late at night, as they could become targets.
“These people go hunting, understand this, they look for victims, corner them, get into their vehicles, and kidnap and rob them,” he said. Franco stressed that people should avoid vulnerable situations to minimize the risk of being kidnapped.
Overall, the recent cases in Ecuador indicate a shift in the trend towards kidnapping from border provinces to urban areas, targeting the middle class.
Franco suggests avoiding the use of high-end vehicles, as they attract the attention of kidnappers.
UNASE is also warning of the danger of using public transportation at night, as this increases the risk of being a victim of kidnapping.
The unit has been conducting operations to combat kidnapping and extortion, resulting in the rescue of numerous victims and arrests of those responsible.
However, Franco says that the increasing frequency of these crimes suggests that more needs to be done to prevent them from happening in the first place.