Venezuelan authorities are confident they can quickly resolve the kidnapping case of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, Deputy Interior and Justice Minister Edwin Rojas said.
Police have gathered forensic evidence from a vehicle abandoned in a nearby town and have drawn sketches of the criminals based on witness accounts, Rojas said. The government has identified a gang that also operates in several other parts of the country, according to a police statement.
“We are confident we can solve this case quickly,” Rojas said, according to a government statement. The “government is working 24 hours a day to resolve the case.”
Ramos was kidnapped Nov. 9 in his home country of Venezuela, where he had been preparing to play baseball in a winter league. He is the first Major League Baseball player to be kidnapped in the South American nation, where relatives of several major leaguers have been targeted, and security will be tightened, according to the Venezuelan Baseball League.
Ramos, who has been training with the Aragua Tigers, was visiting his mother’s home in Santa Ines, Carabobo state, when gunmen entered at around 7:15 p.m. local time and forced him into an orange SUV, according to a government statement.
About 300 police officers are combing the mountainous areas outside Valencia, a city 152 kilometers (94 miles) west of Caracas, the Ultimas Noticias newspaper reported without saying where it obtained the information.
The kidnappers haven’t made contact with Ramos’s family, Aragua Tigers spokeswoman Katherine Vilera wrote in a message posted on her Twitter account.
“All that’s left is to be patient, pray and have faith,” she wrote.
Major League Baseball said yesterday its Department of Investigations is working with the appropriate authorities on the matter.
People gathered outside the family home of Wilson Ramos last night in Valencia and formed a candlelit vigil to pray for his safe return. Before winter league baseball games began last night, a moment of silence was held as players wore green ribbons on their sleeves in honor of Ramos, according to images published on Noticias24.com.
The 24-year-old Ramos played his first full major-league season in 2011 and hit .267 with 15 home runs and 58 runs batted in while supplanting 14-time All-Star Ivan Rodriguez as the Nationals’ regular catcher.
Ramos made a major-league minimum $414,500 with the Nationals last season. The Washington Post said he was planning to play about 10 winter league games with the Tigers.
Violent crime has become a constant concern for Venezuelans and murder rates have risen by almost 200 percent since President Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.
Homicides nationwide rose to 17,600 last year from 16,047 in 2009 and 5,968 in 1999, the Caracas-based Non Governmental Organization said. That took the country’s murder rate to 57 per 100,000 inhabitants from 25 in 1999. Chavez’s government put the number lower, though still above the Latin American average.
Venezuela has the third highest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere after Honduras and El Salvador, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2009, the 11-year-old son of catcher Yorvit Torrealba was kidnapped and returned after a ransom was paid, while the mother of ex-pitcher Victor Zambrano was rescued after being taken. The previous year, the brother of Henry Blanco, another major-league catcher from Venezuela, was shot and killed by kidnappers after being abducted in a Caracas suburb.
Anibal Sanchez, a Venezuelan starting pitcher for the Florida Marlins, canceled his December trip home after hearing of the Ramos kidnapping, the Sun Sentinel, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based newspaper, reported today.
Venezuelan Baseball League President Jose Grasso said that while the league provides good security for foreign players while they are with their clubs, it can’t control their movements or what they do in their free time.
“Obviously this is something that damages our reputation but we have had calls of support from many foreign players saying they don’t feel threatened,” Grasso said in a phone interview.