Major League Baseball Player Kidnapped In Venezuela

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was abducted outside his home in Venezuela on Wednesday. Robert Siegel speaks with NPR's Juan Forero about the kidnapping.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There has been work yet from the kidnappers of Major League Baseball player Wilson Ramos. Ramos is a catcher for the Washington Nationals. He was in his native Venezuela for the off-season and he was abducted from his home in Valencia yesterday. Ramos is believed to be the first victim of such an abduction who plays Major League Baseball in the United States. There have been many similar kidnappings from the Venezuelan Baseball League, both players and other family members.

NPR's Juan Forero is in Ramos's hometown. And, Juan, what do we know so far?

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: We don't know very much at the moment. I'm in front of Ramos's family home and they're hunkering down. They're here with some of their representatives. They're here with the police and they're waiting. They're waiting to hear if he, in fact, has been kidnapped and if there is going to be a demand for money.

SIEGEL: And what are the Venezuelan authorities doing about this kidnapping?

FORERO: Well, Venezuela, as you may know, has a tremendous kidnapping problem; hundreds of kidnapping victims every year. And the Venezuelan authorities have been unable to control this scourge. But today, the interior minister came out to say that this was going to be a priority. And there are about five or six different police and military units that are involved in this at the moment.

SIEGEL: Now, Juan, given that there is evidently quite a bit of kidnapping in Venezuela, what is typical? Do people pay off? Are people recovered from kidnappings routinely?

FORERO: Well, look, I think the situation here in Venezuela is similar to that of other countries that have had big kidnapping problems. A lot of the kidnappings happen very quickly, they last a couple of days, people pay up, they never contact the authorities. So there's many, many kidnappings that never go into the official books.

But officially, the number of kidnappings has skyrocketed over the last decade. It basically spread. It used to be kidnappings along the Colombian border, involving Colombian guerrillas and other armed groups. And now it's pretty much all over the country.

And there's a particular kind of kidnapping here called express kidnappings, when people are nabbed and driven around town for several hours, forced to withdraw money from their ATM machines. But then there are also kidnappings like this, involving people like somebody let Ramos; people with potential to pay big money. In these cases, we're talking probably about organized groups. This is what the experts here say.

SIEGEL: And if this happens quite often, is it common for people, after ransom is paid, to in fact be released by their kidnappers?

FORERO: Well, I think that's hard to say because the data is just so sketchy. Of course, there are many situations where people do pay up and they are freed. But unfortunately, there are many other situations where people are killed or they disappear forever.

SIEGEL: What about Major League Baseball? This was a young man with a very promising rookie season for the Washington Nationals. Is either the team or Major League Baseball itself showing any presence there?

FORERO: Major League Baseball is extremely concerned about this. The GM of the Washington Nationals has been in close contact here with the family and so have other baseball officials. And really, right now they're very much focused on this young man and trying to show solidarity with the family.

But certainly, in the back of their minds, is just concern over other Venezuelans players - what do we do in the future to work with Venezuelan winter league baseball, to ensure that these players are safe?

SIEGEL: Juan, thanks. And keep us posted.

FORERO: My pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Juan Forero in Valencia, Venezuela.

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