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The kidnapping of Wilson Ramos underscores Venezuela’s growing national pastime

By Jennifer Barreto-Leyva

CARACAS,VENEZUELA — As a Venezuelan reporter, this is one of those stories you really hate to write or talk about.

A few weeks ago, when Venezuelan baseball player Wilson Ramos was kidnapped, my family and I, as many other families in Venezuela, who have been victims of the same crime, relived the fear, sadness, stress and emotional trauma you experience in a kidnapping, and never forget.

Kidnap victim Wilson Ramos talks with reporters after his release.

The country was in real shock — college students, Ramos’ colleagues, his family, every single Venezuelan, related or not to him, prayed for him to be alive. Facebook and Twitter, as social networks, were the media of choice to talk about it. With different tags, photos, videos, we, as one family, prayed and hoped for him to be found alive and nothing but that.

Wilson’s kidnapping was pretty a wake-up call to the world about the serious and critical safety issues Venezuelans have to deal with on a daily basis, specially over the last few years. Unofficially, it’s estimated that 3 kidnappings occur each day in Venezuela.

A number so little, but so shocking and alarming at the same time.

Some people asked me on Twitter “Why Wilson? What did he do to deserve this? He only play sports!” and my answer, in between tears and anxiety, was the same: “Wilson hasn’t done anything. This is some kind of evil lottery we have to deal with every single day. In this country, it doesn’t matter how rich, poor, known or unknown you are or whether you have a cell phone, a pair of tennis shoes or the biggest fortune in the country, everything can make you a target of such a horrible crime such as this.”

I still remember during my college years when I fell in love with criminology. Since then, I’ve tried to attend every seminar, class, and post-graduate course I could that has been related to it. And I’m glad I did — because that literally saved my life.

I always heard from my professors that there were two crimes people can never 100 percent recover from — rape and kidnapping.

As a woman, I can understand why rape would be one such crime because of the violence it implied and used to do it, but kidnapping? It was only when I experienced it myself could I really understand how traumatic an experience it is and what my professors meant when talking about it.

Your life changes forever. Your vision of the world becomes totally different. And for some reason, you feel close and bonded forever to others who share the same torment as you, like we’re all from one big family.

Being kidnapped is something you never forget or get over.

Since his rescue was so fast, due to the fact his rescuers were using the latest technology and the whole operation was headed by Venezuela’s very own Minister of Interior and Justice, Tarek Al Aissami, the country’s reaction was short-lived shock.

However, something I do support and subscribe to is that every single kidnapping case should be treated as professionally and quickly as this one.

What wasn’t professional, and was more embarrassing and sad than anything else was the hate speech that erupted among some high-profile Venezuelans during Wilson’s ordeal. Instead of focusing on Wilson’s safe return, these people made serious and irresponsible statements based on nothing more than their personal prejudices alleging that Wilson’s kidnapping was a “theatrical play” in order to do a deep image cleaning for Chavez and some others.

Since his release, Wilson has decided not to leave the country but stay and keep playing baseball here. He wants to be an example for Venezuelan children, showing them that with hard work you can achieve anything you want.

It’s a decision I admire and applaud.

Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that Venezuela is the most dangerous country of Latin America. Whoever denies it doesn’t live here. In fact, as I am writing this post, I am hearing that a friend of mine was a victim of an “express kidnapping.”

Again, I find myself in tears — this time not only for Wilson, but for my friend. It’s hard to not take news of any kidnapping personally because that’s exactly what it is.

Learn more about Jennifer Barreto-Leyva

Jennifer Barreto-Leyva lives in Caracas, Venezuela where when this 5″11 venezolana is not defending the rights of her clients as a lawyer or inspiring people as a motivational speaker, she is an outspoken defender on the rights of plus-size people.

Jennifer is Miss Plump Venezuela and the first Latina who participated and won the Miss Universe for Plus-size title. She is also the first venezolana plus-size model and, consequently, is credited for introducing the plus-size modeling division throughout Latin America.

Since 1999, Jennifer has penned a regular column, Tu Rincon con Jen, for the only online site dedicated to plus size people in Spanish, In addition, Jennifer is also taking her message about body issues as a blogger with Estilos Blog, a celebrity blog based in Florida.

Because of her sassy outspokenness and willingness to force the issue that beauty does not lie with a person’s weight, Jennifer has found her message much in demand from South and North America to Europe and Asia.

As a result, Jennifer has launched the first spanish-language magazine in history for plus-size people — Belleza XL.

In addition, Jennifer continues to provide constant inspiration for women of all sizes through her blog, Facebook page. She says that she always knew that when it came to defending who she was, no one was going to do it for her.

I saw myself different (as a child), not only when it comes to my size but my beauty as well. I’ve always had to deal with people’s cruelty because they think I’m ugly and have no hesitation letting me know that. I had to be strong and mature when no one around was. I’m beautiful because I’ve decided and feel that way, not because everyone else says it is so.

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