Sunday, June 16, 2013

Colombia: Update--Two Kidnapped Spanish Tourists Rescued by Anti-Kidnapping Unit

According to The Latin American Tribune, and as a follow-up to my last posting of June 6, Spanish tourists Angel Sánchez Fernández, 49, and María Concepción Marlaska Sedano, 43, were freed by the country's anti-kidnapping unit, known as Gaula, in northern Colombia after being held for ransom for roughly a month.

The couple arrived in Bogotá on Saturday (June 15) and were immediately taken to a hospital for medical examinations.

Sánchez Fernández, 49, and Marlaska Sedano, 43, who appeared to be in good health, waved to reporters from a distance after stepping off a CNP (Colombian National Police) aircraft that flew them from the Caribbean city of Santa Marta. 

Upon arrival in the capital, and in keeping with Gaula policy, neither tourist made any statements to the media until they can be fully debriefed.

COMMENT: Colonel Elber Velasco Garavito, CNP commander in the northern province of La Guajira, where the two Spaniards were kidnapped on May 17, said that Sánchez Fernández had been shackled in chains throughout most of his time in captivity, although Marlaska Sedano was only held in that manner at the beginning of their captivity.

Unfortunately, the kidnap team numbering as many as ten persons, escaped before they could be arrested. 

Spain’s national police, known as Cuerpo Nacional de Policía (CNP) said on Saturday via Twitter that two businessmen, a Spaniard and a Syrian, who were tasked with arranging the collection of a ransom for the tourists’ release, had also been arrested in Madrid. 

A team of doctors met the two Spaniards at the foot of the plane’s stairs in Bogota and the two then boarded separate ambulances, one of which was carrying Spain’s ambassador to Colombia, Nicolas Martin Cinto. 

The two also wore bulletproof jackets provided to them by Gaula, the National Police anti-kidnapping unit that rescued them in the early morning hours of Saturday in a rural area outside the city of Maicao, near the border with Venezuela. 

The former captives apparently were abducted by common criminals while riding by car to the eco-tourism destination of Cabo de la Vela in northern Colombia. 

As I have emphasized in previous kidnapping cases, most foreigners that are abducted are not targets of opportunity, but rather those who have been selected based upon criminal observation, which is why I often urge foreigners to be observant of those around them, making note of anyone that seem to be asking an abundance of focused questions about their travel plans.  

At this point in time, it is hard to gauge whether the targeting of the two Spaniards was germinated in Spain or Colombia, although my guess is that the planning began in Spain. 

Colombia's Gaula was established several years ago to combat wholesale political and economic kidnappings in the country, in additional to revamping the criminal code. As a result, ransom kidnapping, in particular, has declined dramatically. 

Cabo de la Vela (Spanish for "cape of sails") is a headland in the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia with an adjacent small fishing village. It is a popular eco-tourism destination of the Caribbean Region of Colombia. 

The Cape is surrounded by the La Guajira Desert, part of the larger Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub. There are in the area several saline lagoons and mudflats visited by large populations of American Flamingos.  

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.