Venezuelan gangs profit from 'express kidnapping'

Amid economic crisis, criminals find ways to make quick money

By Cody Weddle

Luisa Salomon said she still remembers the nightmare she lived a little over a year ago. She left her apartment for what was meant to be a short beach vacation in Margarita with her now ex-boyfriend.

The highway didn't have any signs, and the GPS pointed to a shortcut, where the two found themselves in a "peace zone" near Boca de Uchire in an area where gangs rule and police are barred from entering.

When members of one of those gangs noticed them, they ran to their car and started shooting. They were forced out of the car. 

"They put us on our knees, and they put our heads on the road. We were like this, looking at each other, and they pointed at us with the guns," Salomon said. "We thought we were going to be killed at that point."

Everyday when Venezuelans leave their homes in Caracas, they face the threat of a number of common crimes. In the city with one of the cited world's highest homicide rates on par with war zones, "express kidnapping" is the new trend. 

The Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimated there were 27,875 killings in 2015 -- an increase of the homicide rate to 90 per 100,000 residents. The rate increased in 2016 with an estimated 28,479 killings. According to the Citizen's Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, Caracas is now the world’s deadliest city. But Venezuelan authorities continue to dispute the accuracy of these reports.

Salomon, an El Nuevo País newspaper reporter in Caracas, said that when she was kidnapped with her ex-boyfriend, who was a colleague, the gang members made it clear that the only way that they would get out alive was to pay a ransom.

After their relatives paid about $500, the gang members released them after about 12 hours in El Guapo, she said. They were the victims of a quickie method of abduction.

It was a surprisingly small amount of money, according to Luis Izquiel, a criminologist with ties to President Nicolas Maduro's opposition. 

He said these express kidnappings have become one of the most common crimes in the country, because gangs can carry them out with minimal organization and in a day or two.  

Local 10 News' Andrea Torres contributed to this story. 

Copyright 2017 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.