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MLB's Wilson Ramos Rescued In Venezuela


This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. In Venezuela, officials have announced a dramatic end to the high-profile kidnapping of Major League Baseball catcher Wilson Ramos. Police commandos swooped in on a remote mountainous hideaway and rescued him. This was the sound at the Ramos home in Valencia, Venezuela, when he returned there late last night.


WERTHEIMER: For more on this story, we're joined now by NPR's Juan Forero in Ramos' hometown, Valencia, Venezuela. Juan, what was the scene like at the Ramos family home?

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: It was absolute bedlam. The streets were just filled with people, hundreds of people. Ramos' family lives in a working-class neighborhood where everybody knows each other, and as soon as they got word that he was on the way, everybody in the neighborhood came to his house. Of course, he lives in a very small home, so there were hundreds of people outside and the house was packed wall to wall. And there were journalists and there were family members and brothers and sisters and cousins, and it took a while for him to arrive. The word first went out that he had been rescued about 10 PM. He didn't show up until 3 AM. But everybody was there waiting for him and as soon as he stepped out of a police vehicle, people just started to scream. There were a lot of tears. His mother hugged him like she hadn't seen him in 10 years. It was quite a happy ending.

WERTHEIMER: Now, somehow you managed to fight your way in and speak to Ramos immediately after his return. Could you tell us how he described what happened?

FORERO: Ramos said that he had been in a mountain camp somewhere. He said that he had been in some kind of shack for two days. He said he couldn't eat. He said the shack was filled with men who were armed. And he said he expected the worst. And then all of a sudden commandos swooped in and he said that he was taken from there, as fast as he'd been seized just two days before.

WERTHEIMER: The rescue sounds not only dramatic but, of course, it is a very speedy resolution. What more can you tell us about how they found him and how they got him out?

FORERO: Well, what's been interesting about this is that in Venezuela there are hundreds of kidnappings every year and in most cases what happens is the families negotiate with the kidnappers and that's how it's resolved. But it is not uncommon for people to get killed here after being kidnapped. In this case, the family had been waiting and waiting and waiting for a call. Only two days had passed. So really, some of the experts who follow this stuff say that because of this high-profile hostage, the kidnappers would probably wait a week, a month, maybe more, just to try to build up the anguish. That way they could get an easy resolution by the time the negotiations did begin. But none of that happened here. They never called and 48 hours after he was snatched from his home he was back at his home. Some of the people here said that, really, it had a lot to do with just simply the police pressure on these guys.

This had become a priority for Hugo Chavez's government. The government is trying to show that it is in control, that crime has not spiraled out of control, so the government put some of its best people on this. And I'm talking about investigators who investigate kidnappings. I'm talking about crime scene evidence collectors and commandos and so forth. So it was a big group and it was from various agencies who were involved in this.

WERTHEIMER: Give us an idea of how big a problem kidnapping is in Venezuela.

FORERO: Well, last year there were 895 officially registered kidnappings in Venezuela. But in polls that have been taken it shows that there may be thousands of kidnappings. The reason for that is because in a lot of cases people don't report kidnappings. You may be snatched off the street, driven around for hours, taken from one ATM to another and forced to take money out of your bank account, and that is a kidnapping. And people are just simply not going to report that. That 895 figure - just so you get a sense of it - that's three times the number of kidnappings that take place in Colombia. And so, it's a very, very serious problem here. If you talk to normal people here, not rich people, people will say this really worries me - getting kidnapped, getting snatched off the street.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Juan Forero, speaking with us from Valencia, Venezuela. Thank you very much, Juan.

FORERO: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.