REPORTING FROM CARACAS, VENEZUELA, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- In an incident that illustrates the security risks in Caracas, police in the Venezuelan capital confirmed that Mexico's ambassador and his wife were kidnapped and robbed late Sunday night and released unharmed early Monday morning.
The couple were detained as they drove their BMW in the affluent Country Club sector of eastern Caracas. Their car was later recovered in a Chapellin section of the metropolis. Details on the kidnapping were sketchy Monday morning.
Ambassador Carlos Pujalte and his wife, Paloma Ojeda, were not the first crime victims among the diplomatic corps in recent months. In November, Chilean consul Juan Carlos Fernandez suffered a gunshot wound and a beating in Caracas when he was the victim of an “express” kidnapping and held two hours by captors.
Earlier last year, Bolivia’s military attaché and a Mexican diplomat were briefly kidnapped and robbed in the Palos Grandes area, as was the son of the Vietnamese ambassador.
Caracas has become one of the world’ most violent cities in recent years. One civil society group that tracks violent crime counted 19,336 homicides in 2011 in all of Venezuela, up from 7,960 in 2001. “Since 2001, we have added 1,000 more murders every year,” said the group.
As for kidnappings, another victims advocacy group said a 2010 survey found that there were 16,917 victims in the year ended July 2009, several times the number reported in neighboring Colombia. The government’s official numbers acknowledge roughly one-tenth that number.
According to recent polls, crime is the most important issue for most Venezuelans, a trend that could cause trouble for President Hugo Chavez in his reelection bid in October. Opposition candidates have made crime and their approaches to reducing it prime issues in the primary campaign that culminates Feb. 12 with the nomination of Chavez’s chief opponent.
--Mery Mogollon and Chris Kraul
Photo: Crime is expected to be a top issue among voters as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, shown at a gathering Friday, runs for reelection this year. He is holding the country's constitution in his hand, as he often does at public events. Credit: David Fernandez / EPA