The sprawling South American city of Caracas has been well known to present its fair share of dangers. The Venezuelan capital city of over 6 million people has become a playground for kidnappers. A string of recent high profile cases has made this more evident to the world.

The most recent event was the kidnapping of Costa Rican diplomat Guillermo Cholele. The Costa Rican embassy employee was kidnapped Sunday night (April 8th, 2012) by a group of armed gunmen. By Monday, a call had been made to Cholele family members for a ransom. His release was immediately negotiated and by Tuesday he was freed.

In January, Mexico's ambassador to Venezuela was kidnapped along with his wife in Caracas. Carlos Pujalte Pineiro and his wife here held for only four hours before being released in a nearby slum. Express kidnappings like this are common, and usually result in the theft of personal items and withdrawals from personal bank accounts.

Statistics for crime in Venezuela are often kept in secrecy. President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly attempted to downplay the seriousness of the crime rate. The Wall Street Journal reported that a leaked Venezuelan government document reported more than 16,700 kidnappings from July 2008 to July 2009. A local Venezuelan newspaper, El Carabobeño, reported 35 murders in Caracas between Wednesday and Sunday on Easter week alone. According to the nonprofit Venezuelan Violence Observatory, the nation posted a record number of homicides last year, with over 19,336 people murdered.

In November of 2011, a Chilean consul was shot and wounded during a kidnapping in Caracas. The consul was released and recovered from his injuries. This occurred prior to the incident in March that left the daughter of a Chilean consul dead after being shot by Venezuelan police. The victim was shot during a botched traffic stop in the western part of the country.

The highest profile case to be reported on by United States media was the kidnapping of a Major League Baseball player in November of 2011. Wilson Ramos, who plays for the Washington Nationals, was kidnapped near his family home in Valencia. Ramos, who is a native of Venezuela, was playing winter baseball during the off-season. He was held for two days in nearby mountains before he was rescued by special forces in a shootout.

Many claim that Venezuela's rising crime rate is due to the stalled economy. The oil based economy has witnessed Latin America's worst inflation rate in recent years. President Chavez touts that the nation will soon emerge from the recession, but his personal handling of national assets and business has proved only detrimental.

-- K. Mennem

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