CARACAS, (Reuters) – A Costa Rican kidnapped during the weekend in the latest attack on foreign diplomats in Venezuela has been freed and is in good health, the government said today.
“Thanks to police investigation and pressure, we achieved the liberation of the Costa Rican diplomat,” Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said on Twitter. He promised full details of the operation later in the day.
Guillermo Cholele, a trade attache at the Costa Rican Embassy in Caracas, was seized on Sunday night as he returned to his home in La Urbina, a middle-class neighbourhood in the eastern part of the capital.
“He is in good physical state, under police protection en route to meet up with his family,” El Aissami said.
Various diplomats stationed in Venezuela have been victims of robberies and “express” kidnappings – usually short abductions motivated by money – in recent months. One consul’s daughter was shot dead at a police roadblock.
Local media said Cholele was 55 and had lived in Venezuela with his wife and two children for the past six years. His abductors had demanded a ransom, according to Costa Rica, but it was unclear if anything was paid.
Murders, armed robberies and abductions are rife in Venezuela, which has huge oil wealth alongside deep poverty.
Mexico’s ambassador and his wife were briefly kidnapped in January and last year a consul from Chile was shot and beaten in Caracas during an abduction that lasted several hours.
A diplomat from Belarus also was kidnapped last year. Last month, the teenage daughter of a Chilean diplomat was shot dead by police after the car she was in failed to stop at a roadblock in the western city of Maracaibo.
Venezuelan’s favorite sport has also been hit. U.S. Major League Baseball player Wilson Ramos of the Washington Nationals was kidnapped while visiting his parents last November. He was held in the mountains for two days before being rescued by security forces.
The country’s opposition, which hopes to topple President Hugo Chavez in the Oct. 7 election and end his 13 years in power, says his government only shows any urgency in its fight against crime when foreign or high-profile victims are involved.
Seeking to counter that impression, Chavez’s socialist administration launched two new organizations to combat criminality just last week.
While voters appear not to hold the president personally responsible for one of the world’s highest crime rates, his government is under growing pressure – and the latest incident quickly became politicized.
Some Chavez supporters suggest the violence against diplomats may be an opposition plot to discredit the government and tarnish the achievements of his self-styled revolution.
Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly boss and a staunch ally of the president, said he hoped the recent attacks were just a coincidence and nothing more sinister, while pro-Chavez talk show host Mario Silva said the opposition was following the violent playbook of a brief coup against Chavez a decade ago.
“What better way to show the international community that Venezuela doesn’t even have the capacity to protect diplomats?” Silva said on Monday night.
“They’re following the exact same script.”