Wilson Ramos, the starting catcher for the Washington Nationals, was kidnapped by armed gunmen on Wednesday night at his home in his native Venezuela. The abduction is just the latest incident in and ongoing problem that has plagued Venezuela for years. Kidnappings are frequently utilized by criminal gangs to extort money from the wealthy. In particular, high profile athletes have often been targeted. There have been numerous incidences over the years where family members of professional athletes (often Major League baseball players as baseball if far more popular in Venezuela than soccer, hence the reason this has gained a good amount of media attention in the United States) have been taken, but this is the first instance where the athlete himself is the victim.
The State Department website points out that Venezuela has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. Overall, the country has a pervasive problem with criminal violence which the police have been unable to combat and criminals operate throughout the country with impunity. The State Department also warns of “express kidnappings” where tourists are seized in an attempt to get quick cash. Basically anyone who is seen to have money is at risk of being abducted in Venezuela. Professional baseball players, who are major celebrities in the country, are prime targets as their wealth is readily apparent.
In cases where US citizens are the ones abducted, the FBI has jurisdiction to investigate the matter. Since Wilson Ramos is not a citizen, the FBI can’t investigate unless they are invited to do so by the Venezuelan government. Thursday, the FBI notified the Venezuelan goverment that they are prepared to assist if asked, however, their help has not been requested thus far.