Washington Nationals player Wilson Ramos was found alive and unharmed on Friday, two days after being kidnapped at gunpoint from a family home in the provincial city of Valencia. The 24-year-old rookie had returned to Venezuela just a few days before his abduction to begin training with the Tigres de Aragua team, for whom he planned to play during the U.S. off season.
Ramos’ rescue required the mobilization of significant government resources, including domestic intelligence agencies and National Guard troops. The operation, which lasted 12 hours, first led authorities to a house the kidnappers used to coordinate logistics, and later to a mountain house where Ramos was being held. Ramos was freed after a shootout between his captors and government forces. Speaking to the press over the weekend, Ramos said “they didn’t hurt me physically, but psychologically [the experience] was extremely harmful.”
Six Venezuelans have been arrested in the case, though the Minister of Justice and the Interior, Tareck El Aissami, said Saturday that the mastermind of the kidnapping is Colombian. Authorities are still looking for him, along with four other Colombians who managed to flee during the rescue operation.
The case highlights a problem of deteriorating security and growing violence in Venezuela in recent years, an issue that will figure strongly in next year’s presidential elections. According to unofficial statistics, 1,800 people are kidnapped in Venezuela per year. Relatives of Major League players have been victims of kidnappings in the past, though Ramos is believed to be the first player to be taken hostage.
Next to the Dominican Republic, Venezuela produces the most Major League players of any foreign country, according to 2011 opening-day rosters.