Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Express Kidnappings in El Hatillo

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has received reports indicating that at least seven people have been victims of “express kidnappings” in and around the municipality of El Hatillo in Caracas since Friday, May 22nd, 2015.

The criminal group carrying out the attacks is composed of at least six heavily-armed men who travel in two SUVs.  Victims have been taken off of the street in several locations in El Hatillo and are held in the criminals’ vehicles and driven through various parts of Caracas while a ransom is negotiated.

The primary motivation behind express kidnappings is to obtain as much money from a victim as possible in a short period of time, usually a matter of hours.  Generally, the kidnappers will treat their victims reasonably well, provided they are cooperative.  They will encourage the victim to contact as many friends and family members as possible–using their personal cellular telephone–to have them pool money for a ransom.

The Embassy offers the following recommendations:

MAINTAIN A SURVIVAL MENTALITY!

REMAIN CALM – While the first few minutes of abduction can present the best opportunity to thwart the attempt, it is well known that during a hostage-taking situation or abduction they are also the most dangerous, especially if the victim resists capture.  Often kidnappers use multiple, armed attackers to overwhelm and subdue their victims, making escape unrealistic and not worth the increased danger presented by resistance.  Think rationally and be cooperative.

BE OBSERVANT – You should try to observe and remember as much as possible in order to help you escape if the opportunity arises, to predict your abductor’s next moves, and to give information to the police to help apprehend the kidnapper(s).  Be prepared to use all of your senses, i.e. hearing, touch or smell, particularly since many times victims are blindfolded.  Observe your kidnappers and gather information on your surroundings.  This should be done only up to the point to where you make the judgment call that to go further will place yourself in further jeopardy.  Finally, take note of your personal condition, i.e. any injuries, are you bound, etc.

ESTABLISH RAPPORT – Make a reasonable attempt to establish a rapport with your abductor(s).  Avoid discussing anything that may aggravate your situation, i.e. politics, or agitate the kidnappers.  The stronger a bond you can build with your captors, the more hesitant they will be to harm you.

BE A GOOD LISTENER – Be empathetic, within reason, so the abductor(s) will feel more comfortable around you and more benevolent toward you. Being a good listener can also help you gather information.

IF A RESCUE ATTEMPT IS MADE – Aside from the first few minutes of abduction, a rescue attempt is the most dangerous period in a hostage situation.  When a rescue attempt occurs, get behind some kind of protective barrier (under a desk or table, for example, or in a bathtub), lay flat and protect your head with your hands.  Do not make sudden movements when armed rescuers burst in.  Follow the rescuers’ instructions carefully.  Obey all commands they give.

RANSOM – As outlined in 7 FAM 1823, the U.S. Government will make no concessions to individuals or groups holding official or private U.S. citizens hostage.  The United States will use every appropriate resource–including working with host government authorities–to gain safe release of U.S. citizens who are held hostage.  At the same time, it is U.S. Government policy to deny hostage takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession.

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Venezuela enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency.  If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Regularly monitor the State Department’s website at http://travel.state.gov/, where you can find current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Venezuela, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution.  Read the Country Specific Information for Venezuela.  For additional information, refer to the “Traveler’s Checklist” on the State Department’s website.

Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions.  You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).  Follow the embassy on Twitter (@usembassyve) and Facebook to have travel information at your fingertips.

The U.S. embassy in Caracas is located at Calle F con Calle Surapure, Lomas de Valle Arriba and is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., +58 212-975-6411.  If you are a U.S. citizen in need of urgent assistance, the emergency number for the U.S. Embassy is 0212-907-8400.