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.
The Venezuelan government needs to take action quickly because tourism is soon going to dwindle. By condoning this behavior (or not enforcing strict punishment) of kidnappers, the government is only hurting its own inhabitants. As someone who knows little about this country’s government, Venezuela has a reputation of corruption and therefore, may be turning a blind eye for its own benefit, whatever that may be. Who knows if there is money involved for those in the government who keep quiet or threats of violence for those who do not? The country’s reputation for kidnapping is what leads to a decline in tourism and, in turn, the kidnapping escalates because there are fewer straight jobs for the citizens. Either way, the country needs a major overhaul and the government has to get on board to change the country’s global image.
Luckily, Wilson Ramos has been found alive by Venezuelan police and National Guard commandos. He was rescued two days after his kidnapping at a remote location in the mountains of Carabobo state. Since then, Venezuelan police have arrested 8 suspects, which includes six men who have been accused of direct involvement with the kidnapping, and two others who are accused of providing the abductors with food.
After his release, Ramos told the press that his kidnappers had “carefully planned the abduction with the help of an informant who had studied his movements.” Additionally, he said that his abductors told him they were going to demand a large ransom.