Venezuela: Colombian Paramilitaries Arrested near Caracas for "Military Rebellion" against Venezuelan Government

Article excerpt

On May 9, the Venezuelan government arrested several dozen men it alleged were paramilitary fighters from Colombia who were camped out on the outskirts of Caracas. Venezuelan authorities arrested the unarmed Colombians wearing Venezuelan army uniforms at a country home on the outskirts of the capital that belongs to a radical member of the opposition, Cuban-born Venezuelan Robert Alonso, whose whereabouts is unknown but who may be living in Miami.

Venezuelan authorities later found the bodies of two men near Alonso's house and believe they were members of the group who were killed by their fellow paramilitaries.

President Hugo Chavez charged that dozens of suspects arrested in the raid are Colombian insurgents involved in a plot against his government. He said 53 Colombian right-wing paramilitary fighters were arrested at the house and another 24 recruits were caught after fleeing into the countryside. More arrests were made in subsequent days.

In his weekly broadcast, Chavez said the suspects were training to strike at his government. Chavez has frequently claimed that Venezuela's opposition, including a number of military officers who supported the April 2002 coup, has conspired to overthrow his government, with Washington's backing (see NotiSur, 2002-04-19 and 2002-05-03). The US government rejects the charges.

Daniel Fonseca, a neighbor living near the farm where the paramilitaries were arrested, said the men had been at the farm for about 15 days. "I saw them twice when riding horses," Fonseca told the Associated Press (AP). "They were dressed as civilians, and I saw some of them with 9 mm pistols."

An AP reporter saw abundant amounts of food, provisions, clothes and about one hundred thin mattresses at the rustic house where the alleged paramilitary members were captured.

Chavez calls group US-supported coup plotters

Venezuela "has been invaded. We are facing a serious threat to the peace, integrity, and security of this republic," President Chavez said May 12 in a nationally broadcast radio and TV address, referring to the capture of the alleged Colombian paramilitaries.

The aborted plan entailed an invasion that was "thought up, planned, and led by an international network--two of whose hubs are Miami, Florida, and Colombia--with the complicity of unpatriotic Venezuelans," said Chavez. "Traitorous officers in Venezuela's armed forces, both active and retired, helped bring the terrorists from the border to Caracas," he added.

Since the May 9 raid, 16 other Colombians have been detained, properties of members of the business community and politicians with links to the opposition have been searched, and the arrests of around 10 National Guard and Air Force officers, including four on active duty, have been ordered.

Colombia condemns presence of fighters in Caracas

In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe praised Venezuela for the arrests. But right-wing Colombian paramilitary leader Salvador Mancuso denied that his Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) were involved. …