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Costa Rican diplomat kidnapped in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — A diplomat from the Costa Rican Embassy in Venezuela has been kidnapped and his abductors are demanding a ransom, officials said Monday.

Guillermo Cholele, the embassy's trade attache, is the latest diplomat to have been kidnapped in Venezuela recently.

In January, Mexican Ambassador Carlos Pujalte was abducted together with his wife. They were freed four hours later, and prosecutors said the following week that three suspects were arrested in the crime. In November, Chile's consul in Caracas was briefly kidnapped and was released by his captors about two hours later. He was shot and wounded during the ordeal.

Cholele was grabbed Sunday night as he was arriving at his home in eastern Caracas, Ambassador Nazareth Avendano said at a news conference.

His abductors took him away in his vehicle, which has diplomatic corps license plates, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry said.

"A telephone call made to the diplomat's residence mentioned the request of a ... sum as ransom and added that he's in good health," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, calling the incident "extremely serious." It did not say how much the abductors demanded.

The ambassador said the abductors had not made contact since that initial call on Sunday.

"It's been a big blow," Avendano said. Cholele has been based in Venezuela for six years and lives with his wife and two children, the ambassador said.

Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry said two diplomats would travel to Caracas to cooperate in the investigation being carried out by Venezuelan police and prosecutors.

It also said in a statement that officials in Costa Rica had met with Venezuela's ambassador, Aura Mahuampi, to discuss concerns about Cholele's safety. The Foreign Ministry said the diplomat takes medications for a heart problem and high blood pressure.

Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said officials were focusing on the investigation "at the highest level."

Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, meanwhile, said the case was unfortunate and criticized President Hugo Chavez's government for its handling of violent crime.

"This country is being eaten up by violence, and the government instead of worrying about how to dismantle the violence is worried about convincing Venezuelans that there isn't violence," Capriles told reporters.

Polls often show that Venezuelans view crime as the country's top problem.

The government has said that Venezuela's murder rate in 2010 was 48 homicides per 100,000 people, giving the country one of the highest rates in Latin America. Kidnappings have also been on the rise in recent years.