Diplomat freed after Venezuela kidnapping ordeal

AP News
Posted: Apr 10, 2012 7:14 PM
Diplomat freed after Venezuela kidnapping ordeal

A diplomat from the Costa Rican Embassy in Venezuela was freed by his captors after a kidnapping ordeal that lasted more than a day, and the government said it is reinforcing security for diplomats in the country.

Guillermo Cholele, the trade attache for the Costa Rican Embassy, appeared on state television Tuesday thanking authorities for their work hours after his abductors released him. He also publicly thanked his captors for "returning me alive."

"It's a great satisfaction to be back," Cholele said during a televised meeting with Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami.

The justice minister said that no ransom was paid and that the diplomat was in good health after being picked up by police in a town south of Caracas. He added that "police pressure" led the abductors to free him.

A newspaper deliveryman found Cholele and took him to a police station, El Aissami told reporters. He said the authorities have identified suspects in two criminal groups and hope to start making arrests soon.

He said they also found the diplomat's vehicle, in which he had been abducted, abandoned in Caracas.

El Aissami's account differed somewhat from that of Miranda state police chief Eliseo Guzman, who said police were on a regular nighttime patrol when they found Cholele at about 2 a.m. Tuesday walking near a gas station in the town of Charallave south of Caracas, where his captors released him.

"He was a little disoriented," Guzman told The Associated Press. He said the diplomat had a small cut on his head.

Guzman said in a telephone interview that Cholele told police his captors had kept him blindfolded in a vehicle as they drove around for about an hour before freeing him.

Guzman said he thinks the kidnappers probably abandoned the diplomat because they were under pressure as police searched for them.

Other diplomats have also been kidnapped in Venezuela recently.

In January, Mexican Ambassador Carlos Pujalte was abducted together with his wife. They were freed four hours later, and prosecutors said the following week that three suspects were arrested in the crime. In November, Chile's consul in Caracas was briefly kidnapped and was released by his captors about two hours later. He was shot and wounded during the ordeal.

El Aissami said the government is committed to ensuring the security of diplomats in the country, and announced that the national police are training a force of about 600 additional officers to assist in diplomatic security.

"This situation evidently commits us to accelerating those plans even more," El Aissami said. He said the authorities plan to meet with the diplomatic corps in the coming weeks to discuss security.

Costa Rica's ambassador, Nazareth Avendano, said that Cholele was abducted on Sunday night as he was arriving at his home in eastern Caracas.

Cholele was taken him away in his vehicle, which has diplomatic corps license plates. The Foreign Ministry said the abductors had called the diplomat's home after the kidnapping and demanded a ransom.

Avendano said the diplomat has been based in Venezuela for six years and lives with his wife and two children.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo said in the statement that the news of his release "brings enormous tranquility" to the family and the government.

El Aissami said Cholele and another Costa Rican official met with prosecutors who are investigating the crime. He also said, without giving details, that Cholele's home recently was burglarized.