Abducted Venezuela baseball player rescued
Wilson Ramos, who plays for the Washington Nationals, found in mountains near his mother's hometown in Carabobo state.
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2011 08:30
Anti-kidnapping units led by 'the best investigators' were dispatched to the area where Ramos was seized [Reuters]

Venezuelan police have rescued a US Major League Baseball player who was abducted at gunpoint on Wednesday.

In a case that has highlighted the country's serious crime problem, Wilson Ramos, the 24-year-old catcher for the Washington Nationals, was preparing to play for Venezuela's Aragua Tigers during the US off-season when he was kidnapped from his family home.

Tareck El Aissami, the Venezuelan interior minister, said on state television on Friday that Ramos was "safe and sound'' and that he was rescued by police. He said the circumstances were not immediately clear.

Al Jazeera's Dima al-Khatib, reporting from Caracas, said authorities had confirmed that three people had been detained, one of them a Colombian national.

Andres Izarra, the information minister, reported the rescue via the micro-blogging site Twitter, saying Ramos was "found alive by security forces in the mountain region of Montalban'', in the central Carabobo state.

He said it was "a rescue operation by air', which was authorised earlier in the day by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

Four armed men in a stolen 4x4 vehicle seized Ramos while he chatted with friends and relatives, colleagues and police said. The vehicle was later found abandoned and there was no word on any ransom demand.

El Aissami had earlier said anti-kidnapping units led by "the best investigators we have" were dispatched to the area in Carabobo.

Financial motives

Bodyguards typically shadow major leaguers when they return to their homeland to play in the winter league.

"Every major league player has his own security, but we don't know if he had his security there at that time," Domingo Alvarez, vice-president of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, said.

Most kidnappings in Venezuela are for financial motives, with gangs demanding large ransoms and mostly preying on local businessmen and landowners. Security experts say only northern Mexico, where drug gangs wreak havoc, rivals Venezuela for abductions in Latin America.

The kidnapping of Ramos has highlighted the problem of increasing crime and insecurity in Venezuela

The wealthy have taken steps to protect themselves. Sales of armoured cars have jumped in the past several years.

Insecurity is a major issue in the run-up to the 2012 presidential vote when Chavez will seek re-election.

Venezuelan police said 618 kidnappings were reported in 2009, and the numbers have grown rapidly in recent years.

In 1998, when Chavez was elected, just 52 kidnappings were reported.

Security experts say the real number of kidnappings today is much higher because many cases are not reported to authorities.

The government passed a revised law in 2009 that stiffened prison sentences for kidnapping and also allows authorities to freeze the banks accounts of victims' families to prevent them from paying ransom.

In November 2009, the mother of Victor Zambrano, who retired after a seven-year Major League career, was rescued in a commando-style operation three days after she was kidnapped. The former pitcher's cousin, Richard Mendez Zambrano, had been kidnapped a few days earlier, and was later killed.

In June 2009, Colorado Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba's 11-year-old son and brother-in-law were kidnapped and released a day later.

The mother of a former player, Ugueth Urbina, who was a two-time All-Star pitcher, spent more than five months in captivity until she was rescued in early 2005.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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