By James Suggett
MERIDA — The Venezuelan Attorney General's Office formally opened an investigation into an alleged assassination plot against President Hugo Chavez, following recently publicized declarations by a former paramilitary hitman and a former Colombian intelligence official.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega announced the opening of the investigation after National Assembly Legislator Reinaldo Garcia filed a formal accusation in the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday. He cited the groundbreaking testimony of former Colombian soldier Geovanny Velasquez, who is currently serving a forty-year prison sentence for his crimes as a paramilitary hitman.
In a videotaped conversation with Colombian investigators earlier this year (see last week's True North Perspective for details), Velasquez said he and other Colombian paramilitaries attended a secret meeting in Venezuela in 1999 at which Manuel Rosales, the former Venezuelan presidential candidate and president of the opposition political party Un Nuevo Tiempo, offered $25 million for Chavez's assassination.
In the video, which Al Jazeera released in an exclusive report last weekend, Velasquez revealed previously undisclosed names and details of the alleged plot, and also said there are 2,500 Colombian paramilitaries in Venezuela with the object of assassinating Chavez and destabilizing his government.
Garcia's accusation also cited the declarations of Rafael Garcia, the former director of information for Colombia's main intelligence agency, DAS. During an interview with Telesur last month, the former DAS official named several high level Colombian authorities who used their contacts within the Colombian paramilitary organization AUC to assist the Venezuelan opposition in acts of economic sabotage, assassinations, and plans to overthrow the Chavez government between 2002 and 2004.
The AUC (United Self-Defense of Colombia) was formed in 1997 mainly to fight against guerrilla insurgents from the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). In recent years, dozens of Colombian politicians, including allies of President Alvaro Uribe, have gone to jail for their links to the illegal group, which both the U.S. and Colombia formally consider a terrorist organization.
In an interview with Telesur on Tuesday, U.S.-Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger said she obtained documents from the U.S. Southern Command, which show the U.S. has detailed knowledge of the AUC and other Colombian paramilitary groups and their operations.
"The U.S. has in its hands complete knowledge of the paramilitary groups that are coordinating the terrorist activities in Venezuela," Golinger said. "This is a small portion... who knows what else they have, this is the little that has been declassified," said Golinger, who presented some of the documents during the interview.
National Assembly Legislator Mario Isea declared earlier this week that the apparent connections among the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, the Venezuelan opposition, and the U.S. government should not be overlooked.
"Given the gravity of these indications," he said, referring to the testimonies of Velasquez, Garcia, and Golinger, "this information should be verified... we do not assume it to be completely true."
Referring to Rosales, who fled to Peru last April to avoid going to trial on charges of corruption during his term as governor of Zulia, Isea said the wealthy right-wing politician is more than a "common criminal," and in fact "a kind of paramilitary commander, for which he would be incurring treason."
The Peruvian Foreign Ministry granted asylum to Rosales on the grounds that he is being politically persecuted. This week, Guarico Governor William Lara, who is also a national leader of Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), called on Peru to repeal Rosales's asylum so that Rosales may be tried for the new charges brought against him in light of Velasquez's testimony.
The presence of Colombian paramilitaries in Venezuela is well known. Their threats against politicians, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and "social cleansing" campaigns aimed at murdering sex workers, drug dealers, and homeless people have been repeatedly denounced, especially in border states such as Zulia. Also, more than a hundred heavily armed paramilitaries were captured in a large estate outside of Caracas in 2004.
October 1, 2009 — Return to cover.