Chavez Accuses State Governor of Seeking To Secede from Venezuela

Chavez accused Manuel Rosales, the governor of the Venezuelan state of Zulia, of seeking secession for his state, with support from the U.S., in an effort to destabilize the country. Rosales, though, strongly denied the accusations.

Caracas, Venezuela, March 8, 2006—Claims of separatist efforts have been going back and forth between the government and the Venezuelan state of Zulia since Sunday. President Hugo Chavez said the US was, “trying to give form to a secessionist movement, of course, to take control of the great oil wealth there.”

A group in Zulia called Rumbo Propio, meaning “Our Own Path” in English, want a referendum in October for autonomy in the Western Venezuelan state. Zulia contains Lake Maracaibo, where 40% of Venezuela’s national oil reserves are located.

Chavez said on his weekly Sunday TV show, Alo Presidente, the opposition Governor of Zulia state, Manuel Rosales was helping US President George W Bush encourage, “a separatist movement so that the United States may benefit from the state’s significant oil resources.”

The Venezuela State Prosecutor, Isaias Rodriguez said yesterday initial investigations have not found a direct connection between the US and the alleged separatists. The same investigation has not shown a link to the Governor of Zulia either.

Julio Chávez, a National Assembly Deputy for the pro-government PPT party said that separatist groups should be tried for “high treason” under articles 128 and 129 of the constitution.

The government has, “obtained good information” about the separatist movements and, “may undertake other action in addition to a criminal investigation,” said Rodriguez.

The government’s claims that Zulia wants independence from Venezuela are a, “smoke screen” to distract from other problems, Governor Rosales said. “Zulia is not a peninsula, much less an island apart. Zulia is Venezuela and we’re Venezuelans,” he added.

Rosales is one of only two opposition governors in Venezuela. Very popular in Zulia, Rosales has been considered a potential presidential candidate against Chavez for the December elections. In Zulia, welfare missions very similar to the government’s are run by Rosales’ state government.

Rumbo Propio’s President Néstor Suárez has denied his group wants Zulian independence from Venezuela. They want the state to have a President instead of a governor and a Senate to make law and run, “physical security more efficiently,” Suarez said.

The Chavez has said Zulia would be the focus of a US invasion of the country. According to him, Venezuelan intelligence discovered a US invasion plan called “Plan Balboa” that showed this.

The US Embassy denied any involvement with separatist groups in Venezuela. A US Embassy Spokesperson said, “To the best of our knowledge, Ambassador Brownfield has not met with these people.”

Bordering Colombia, Zulia has historically had a strong sense or regional identity. Several times since the 1820s Zulia has tried to become independent.