Venezuelan Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez said Sunday that two apprehended suspects in the killing of a retired Venezuelan Army Major General Felix Velasquez were policemen from the opposition-held Caracas borough of Chacao.
Velasquez was assassinated in the early hours of the morning last Saturday in Caracas. According to witnesses, two gunman approached the general’s vehicle aboard a motorcycle and killed the senior military officer who was with his five-year-old granddaughter.
Gonzalez said a preliminary investigation indicated the homicide of Velasquez was a contract killing disguised as an attempted robbery. He later said on national television on Sunday that the suspects are Chacao police officers and that the motorcycle and arms they used were property of the police department.
In a series of tweets from his official account, Gonzalez also reported that one suspect was caught around noon Sunday, with a second apprehended around 2:00 p.m. local time.
The minister added that the government suspected that far-right political groups may have been behind the targeted assassination of Velasquez and that criminal gangs may have been involved. A further two men were also arrested in connection to the murder.
The two men, both Chacao police officers, were formally charged with the homicide on Monday. Two other men were indicted for accessory to murder and illegal possession of firearms, respectively. All were charged with criminal conspiracy.
One of the officers, Kedingers Garcia Salazar, had reported his firearm stolen hours before the murder, which according to authorities is the same firearm implicated in the crime.
According to Gonzales, the assassination may have been part of an effort to “interrupt the dialogue process which has just begun” between the government of President Nicolas Maduro and the political opposition.
Representatives from both sides held preliminary talks in the Dominican Republic at the behest of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, and were facilitated by the three former presidents of Panama, Martin Torrijos; of the hosting country, Leonel Fernandez, and of Spain, Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The Venezuelan opposition, despite being united under the banner of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, is fiercely divided over the means to oust Maduro from office.
There are elements within the opposition that are dead set against any efforts at dialogue with the Maduro government.
A targeted assassination, like the one allegedly carried out against Velazquez, could derail the modest progress made.
The Chacao police department is notoriously corrupt, but opposition local government has insisted on refraining from centralization efforts initiated by the central government.
However, on Monday the central government intervened in the police force in response to its connection to the murder, conducting a thorough review of the local body’s armaments depository, its evidence lab, as well as its patrol units.
Velasquez served as the first commander of the Bolivarian National Militia during the administration of the late President Hugo Chavez and was acting as spokesperson for reservists at the time of his killing.
Editing and additional reporting by Venezuelanalysis.