Richard Hidalgo was shot in the forearm during a carjacking attempt in Venezuela in 2002. Three years later, kidnappers demanded $6 million for the release of Maura Villarreal who had been taken from her home in Ocumare del Tuy, outside of Caracas. Villarreal was rescued unharmed. In 2008, however, Carlos Simon Blanco Sanchez was murdered by his kidnappers in Venezuela. In 2009, an 11-year old and his uncle were kidnapped on the way to the boy’s school (but were later released as police were closing in); Jose Castillo was attacked by armed men as he left a luxury hotel; and Elizabeth Mendez Zambrano was kidnapped nine days after her nephew was abducted and killed.
What did these individuals have in common? They all had ties to Major League Baseball: an outfielder, a former player, and players’ moms, son, cousin, brother, and brother-in-law. In 2013, another player’s family – his father, mother and youngest brother – were unharmed in a kidnapping attempted in Valencia, Venezuela.
The nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence identified Venezuela as the second most murderous nation in the world in 2016, noting that there were more than 28,000 homicides in Venezuela that year – a rate of 91.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the U.S. State Department, kidnapping is “a major criminal industry” in Venezuela and while there are no official counts of the number of “it is believed that kidnapping cases remained constant during 2016, as with 2015.” In 2011 alone, more than 1,000 people were kidnapped in Venezuela. One of them was a Major Leaguer. Still, it would take a little more than four more years before the majority of MLB teams would close their training academies in the country.
Recently, major leaguers from Venezuela have begun speaking out about the problems in Venezuela. Francisco Cervelli, Salvador Perez, and Miguel Cabrera are just a few of the players who have made statements about the current situation. Other Latino players have also shown their support.
With the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela, and the upcoming deadline for a vote on the new legislature, these issues are sure to remain in the news. With the increasing involvement of major leaguers, perhaps more of us will be informed of what is happening internationally and perhaps something can be done to assist those living in Venezuela during these challenging times.