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Costa Rica diplomat kidnapped in Venezuela

2012-04-10 12:05

Caracas - Gunmen have kidnapped a Costa Rican diplomat and are holding him for ransom in the latest high-profile abduction to rock crime-plagued Venezuela during an election year, officials said on Monday.

The diplomatic community in the South American nation has been targeted in several attacks in recent months, underlining the rampant insecurity that mostly affects Venezuelans and which voters say is their biggest concern as President Hugo Chavez seeks a new six-year term.

Guillermo Cholele, a trade attaché 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.

"A telephone call to the diplomat's home mentioned a ransom request and added that he was in a good state of health," Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Late on Monday private TV station Globovision said that, in connection with the kidnapping, security officials were searching floor-by-floor through two half-finished city towers that have been occupied by poor families for several years.

Common

Venezuelan media said the kidnappers had jumped from a green Ford Explorer and forced Cholele into their vehicle while one of them stole his gray Mini Cooper, which had diplomatic plates.

Local media said the trade attaché was 55 and had lived in Venezuela with his wife and two children for the last six years.

Murders, armed robberies and abductions are rife in Venezuela, which has huge oil wealth alongside deep poverty. Notably, so-called "express kidnappings" have become common - usually short and motivated purely by money.

There has been a worrisome surge in violence against diplomats in the country during the past year.

Mexico's ambassador and his wife were briefly kidnapped in January, and last year a consul from Chile was shot and beaten during an abduction in Caracas that lasted several hours.

A diplomat from Belarus was also kidnapped in 2011. In March, the teenage daughter of another 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.

Venezuela's opposition, which hopes to topple Chavez at the October 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, last week the government launched two new organisations to combat crime.