Venezuela Says US Trying to Divide Latin America

President Hugo Chavez accused the US government of launching an attack against Venezuela and Argentina in an effort to damage their relations. US authorities made new charges on Monday regarding the infamous “suitcase scandal” but Venezuela and Argentina accused the US of engineering a campaign to divide them.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a speech on Monday (Prensa Presidencial)

Paraguaná, December 17, 2007,
( – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States government yesterday of launching an attack against Venezuela and Argentina in an effort to damage their relations. US authorities made new charges on Monday regarding the infamous "suitcase scandal" but Venezuela and Argentina accused the US of engineering a campaign to divide them.

"We have seen in the last few days how the North American empire has once again launched an attack against the Venezuela and Argentinean governments," said Chavez in a speech on Monday. He accused the US of using "lies" and "garbage" in an effort to "damage not only Venezuela, but also Argentina."

A US prosecutor said on Monday that two of the four men charged with being illegal Venezuelan agents made an offer of US$ 2 million to Venezuelan-American Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson in an effort to cover up the source of the US$ 800,000 that Antonini was caught bringing into Argentina last August.

Assistant US Attorney Thomas Mulvihill revealed for the first time on Monday that Antonini is cooperating with the FBI in the case. He alleged that the suspects were working as agents of the Venezuelan government to thwart investigations in Argentina, who had requested the extradition of Antonini.

"The problem is that it became a public relations disaster," Mulvihill said. "In order to suppress that public relations disaster, the Venezuelan agents met with Mr. Antonini."

Mulvihill said that the FBI set up video and audio surveillance of the meetings, and that the recordings show that the suspects tried to threaten and bribe Antonini into covering up the source of the US$ 800,000. According to the prosecutors, the recordings also reveal that that the Venezuelan men have connections to high officials in the Venezuelan government, and that the money was destined to finance the presidential campaign of Cristina Fernandez, current President of Argentina.

But both Argentinean and Venezuelan officials have maintained that the US claims are false and have accused the United States of using the case to try to drive a wedge between them.

"The prosecutor says that the funds were for the electoral campaign of Cristina Kirchner. That's a big lie. The United States is worried about the deep expression of solidarity between two presidents," said Chavez.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro assured last week that the case was part of a "US government plan to damage the image of progressive South American governments."

"We are getting access and documentation to all this political scheme that the US government has prepared where we will show how they have done everything," he said. "The truth is that the Bush government is trying a very delicate and dangerous maneuver against the continent's alternative and progressive leadership."

Argentina also assured that the U.S. claims are false, and insisted that the United States is trying to "discipline" Argentina for its increasingly close relations with Venezuela.

The Argentinean government's chief of staff, Alberto Fernandez, accused the US Justice Department of using the investigation of the Venezuelans as a guise to try "to make the international community believe that the Venezuelan government was sending illegal funds to the presidential campaign" of Cristina Fernandez.

Fernandez questioned the credibility of the US claims, and said that if they want to know they truth they should extradite Antonini Wilson to Argentina.

"How can you explain that if the money was destined for the government's candidate, that it was the very same government that stopped the objective from being achieved?" he said. "If [Venezuela] wanted to send money to the campaign, they could have made use of their own diplomatic privileges instead of sending it with this unknown individual and subjecting it to the normal controls."

"If the U.S. wants to cooperate, the best thing it can do is to send Antonini Wilson,'' he said. "Nobody in the U.S. is investigating what happened with the suitcase. What they are investigating is the presence of alleged foreign government officials acting without being registered."

A U.S. judge granted bail to one of the four men at a pretrial hearing in Miami today. Venezuelan nationals Franklin Duran, Carlos Kauffmann and Moises Maionica are being held without bail, while Uruguayan national Rodolfo Wanseele was granted bail but is being held pending an appeal. The men, who maintain they are innocent, are scheduled to be arraigned and enter pleas later this month. If convicted, they would face up to 10 years in federal prison and US$ 250,000 in fines.