Business leaders briefly kidnapped in Venezuela

AP News
Posted: Oct 28, 2010 5:50 PM
Business leaders briefly kidnapped in Venezuela

Venezuela's government promised Thursday to investigate a violent attack on four representatives of the country's largest business chamber, a group that has often been at odds with President Hugo Chavez.

The former president of the organization, Albis Munoz, suffered three gunshot wounds in the attack and doctors say she is in stable condition in the hospital.

Gunmen intercepted the vehicle carrying the members of Fedecamaras shortly before midnight near the chamber's office in Caracas. The assailants forced Munoz, Fedecamaras president Noel Alvarez, and members Luis Villegas and Noel Villasmil into another car, beat them and held them for roughly two hours before releasing them.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said he did not believe the attack was politically motivated, telling state television that the objective appeared to be obtaining money from the victims.

"No hypothesis has been ruled out," El Aissami said.

Alvarez urged authorities to bring the assailants to justice.

"Fedecamaras and many of its leaders have been the target of aggressions, and so far the investigations have not turned up anything," he said.

Leaders of Fedecamaras have been extremely critical of the economic policies implemented by Chavez, while government officials have accused the business chamber's representatives of siding with Venezuela's opposition.

Violent crime is common in Venezuela, which has one of Latin America's highest murder rates. The government has not released complete annual statistics recently, but last year authorities said there were more than 12,000 homicides in the first 11 months of 2009.

The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an organization dedicated to crime research, has estimated more than 16,000 homicides last year in the country of 28 million people _ up from less than 6,000 in 1999 when Chavez took office.

In a statement released on Thursday, Fedecamaras expressed concern over "the crime statistics that are recorded everyday," adding that "there are no effective measures that resolve the problem."

Chavez argues his administration is doing everything it can to reduce violent crime.