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In Venezuela, An Abduction Highlights A Scourge

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, seen here at a news conference on Saturday, has much to smile about: He was rescued just two days after he was kidnapped. Not all Venezuelans are that lucky. The government's own statistics show that 895 kidnappings were reported last year. (AFP/Getty Images)

Wilson Ramos came home to a hero's welcome in Valencia, Venezuela, to neighbors celebrating his rescue by commandoes just two days after the Washington Nationals catcher was abducted.

His mother wrapped her arms around him, crying, "How good God is."

It ended happily for Ramos, who was in the country to play in the Venezuelan winter league. But it's not uncommon for hostages to die in Venezuela, and the usual path to freedom involves paying a big ransom.

The government's own statistics show that 895 kidnappings were reported last year — 20 times the number recorded 13 years ago, when President Hugo Chavez first came to power.

Many Venezuelans say there's no end in sight.

Manuel Heredia, president of Venezuela's cattlemen's association, says there was a time when kidnappings mostly took place along the border with once-lawless Colombia.

"Now it's storekeepers, engineers, housewives, students," Heredia says.

Alvaro Ochoa, a young professional in Caracas, was carjacked and held until his parents paid a ransom. He says the kidnapping was traumatic; he couldn't be sure he'd come out alive.

The kidnappings are a problem for the Chavez administration. Polls show crime is a top concern for Venezuelans. So Ramos' rescue was welcome news for the government.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami celebrated at a news conference what he called brave officials who risk their lives to rescue others. In Ramos' case, the rescue came with a shootout, the ballplayer recounted in an interview just minutes after he came home.

"There was a lot of gunfire," he said on Saturday. "I got under the bed, prayed and cried."

He said the rescue was like something out of a movie.

"If it hadn't been for the authorities," Ramos said, "I don't know what would have happened to me."

And then he turned to well-wishers to thank them and to tell them he loved them.

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Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, host: It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Venezuela, Major League Baseball player Wilson Ramos is back home with his family after being kidnapped. Local commandos rescued him just two days after he was abducted. But many kidnappings in Venezuela don't end the same way.

Ramos' abduction highlights the scourge of kidnappings in the country. And as NPR's Juan Forero reports, such crimes have shot up dramatically during President Hugo Chavez's 13 years in office.

JUAN FORERO: Wilson Ramos came home to a hero's welcome, to neighbors celebrating his return.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

FORERO: His mother wrapped her arms around him, crying, how good God is.

MARIA CAMPOS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: It ended happily for Ramos, a catcher for the Washington Nationals who was here to play in the Venezuelan winter league. But it's not uncommon for hostages to die here. And the usual path to freedom involves paying a big ransom.

The government's own statistics show 895 kidnappings were reported last year. That's 20 times the number recorded in Chavez's first year in office. And many Venezuelans say there's no end in sight. Manuel Heredia, president of Venezuela's cattlemen's association, says there was a time when kidnappings mostly took place along the border with once-lawless Colombia.

MANUEL HEREDIA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Now it's storekeepers, engineers, housewives, students, Heredia says. People like Alvaro Ochoa, a young professional in Caracas. He was carjacked and held until his parents paid a ransom.

ALVARO OCHOA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says the kidnapping was traumatic, he couldn't be sure he'd come out alive. The kidnapping scourge is a problem for the Chavez administration. Polls show crime is a top concern for Venezuelans. So for the government, the rescue of Ramos was welcome news.

TARECK AL AISSAMI: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Tareck Al Aissami, the justice minister, celebrated at a press conference what he called brave officials who risk their lives to rescue others. In Ramos' case, the rescue came with a shootout, the ballplayer recounted in an interview just minutes after he came home.

WILSON RAMOS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: There was a lot of gunfire, he said. I got under the bed, prayed and cried. He called the rescue like something out of a movie.

RAMOS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: If it hadn't been for the authorities, Ramos says, I don't know what would have happened to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

FORERO: And then he turned to well-wishers to thank them and to tell them he loved them. Juan Forero, NPR News, Valencia, Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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