Venezuelan Court Releases 2 Officers and 38 others Involved Destabilization Plan

A Venezuelan military court released 2 officers and 38 civilian colombians who were being held since May 2004 for their involvement in a plan to attack the presidential palace. The trial will proceed against four other officers and 62 colombians, who are considered to have been directly involved in the plan.

Caracas, Venezuela, October 5, 2005—Two Venezuelan army officers and 38 suspected Colombian paramilitaries charged with preparing a military coup against the Venezuelan government were let go yesterday. Four other army officers and 62 suspected Colombian paramilitaries will be charged with taking part in a military rebellion.

Colonel Jesús Castro Geyes and Captain Javier Nieto Quintero of the Venezuelan Army have been released because there was, “insufficient evidence to prosecute them”. The 38 Colombians have been let go because the court said they had been forced into preparing the coup against their will. Speaking on the opposition channel Globovision this morning, the freshly released Colonel Geyes said that, “The prosecution has made a polemical case and is obviously confused about the evidence”, he also said, “This process will not allow for the truth to be found.”

If convicted, the remaining suspects will not face the maximum penalty of 27 years in prison. The court said this was because they, “voluntarily desisted” from performing the, “destabilizing act”, and that the Colombians involved were civilians. General Ovidio Poggioli, retired at the time of the plan, has been identified as a leading member of the coup organizers. He is likely to face 9 years in prison for his part in the operation if successfully prosecuted. General Rafael Farías Villasmil, Captain Jesús Farías Rodríguez and Captain Javier Quintero González will all serve 7 years or less if they lose their cases.

Rafael Angel, the lawyer defending General Poggioli strongly insisted that the General was innocent of all charges. He claimed yesterday that the military court and the Venezuelan security forces had made a “fraudulent pact” to unfairly condemn his client. He said the police had made technical mistakes when arresting the Colombians such as showing them to the media before fully confirming their identities. He also said that the Colombians’ testimonies had been manipulated by the prosecution. Speaking on Monday, the Military Judge in charge of the case, Lisandro Bautista said, “These were not people dressed in white holding prayer meetings, they were wearing Venezuelan Army uniforms… They were receiving military training.” He also said, “This was a military rebellion.”

The suspected coup plotters were caught on May 09, 2004 wearing Venezuelan Army uniforms and receiving military training. They were based on the Daktari estate owned by Roberto Alonso, located in Baruta, on the outskirts of Caracas. Alonso is a famously strong opponent of the current administration. He is said to have been one of the masterminds behind the ‘Guarimba,’ a destabilization plan that blocked numerous roads and initiated street battles with Venezuela’s National Guard in March 2004.

When arrested by Venezuelan security forces, many of the Colombians said they had been offered money to come and work on the Daktari estate, but when they arrived they were told they were to train for a coup. They said they were told they and their families in Colombia would be killed if they did not cooperate. Military judge Lisandro Bautista speaking on Monday said, “We do not believe that Roberto Alonso is solely responsible for this.”