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Venezuela's kidnapping express

The preferred method for Venezuelan kidnappers involves driving victims around while families get the ransom together.

The Interior Ministry recorded 537 kidnappings in Venezuela in 2008. By August this year's total had surpassed last year's. A survey by the Observatory of Violence says that the real number will likely be between 8,000 and 9,000 because most incidents go unreported. Andy Chelini, a security consultant specializing in kidnappings in Venezuela, estimates there are between three and five cases a day in Caracas alone.

Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami admitted recently that police are involved in as many as 20 percent of all crimes in Venezuela. Analysts think that number could be as high as 70 percent. Chelini said police involvement could involve anything from active participation to looking the other way.

The government has relaunched a stalled police reform program, including human rights training workshops for officers, but a solution appears distant with impunity in the courts continuing — just 4 percent of violent crimes are prosecuted, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry.

Transparency International classifies Venezuela as the second most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti.

The businessman said his family never thought about calling the CICPC. “What you look for in a situation like this is to resolve it as quickly as possible and we all know the CICPC is absolutely unworkable,” he said.

Affluent families can afford insurance and preparation. Voiceprints of potential victims are stored on databases and "proof of life" questions established so that the negotiator can determine whether the victim is alive and healthy.

And even if families can raise the requested sum quickly they should still stall and bargain, said Chelini.

“If you make it look easy by paying up fast and exactly what they are asking for they''ll come for a second round,” he said. “It's called double dipping.”

So common have kidnappings become in Venezuela that it’s not just the rich who are now targeted.

The businessman, whose family negotiated his release, said it’s the middle class and poor who are suffering because they cannot afford the body guards, armored cars and insurance of the affluent.

“Evidently if this happened to me, someone who doesn’t have a fortune, who doesn’t have a motive for being the victim of a kidnapping, this obviously indicates that this is an activity that has multiplied and that which could happen to absolutely anyone,” he said.

He said he would be dedicating his life for the next few years to paying back the money his family and friends had lent him to pay for his ransom.

“Not only do I take more precautions but fear affects you too,” he said. “Fear affects your habits, your way of thinking. You need to change your work schemes and your life expectation.”