Mérida, October 27, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez declared that he intends to have the governor of oil-rich Zulia state, Manuel Rosales, convicted and sent to prison for corruption, drug-trafficking, links to paramilitary death squads, and plotting to assassinate him.
Rosales, who lost the 2006 presidential election to Chávez and is currently a candidate for mayor of Zulia's capital city Maracaibo, responded that he plans to take Chávez to court for false accusations.
Meanwhile, the nation-wide elections of Venezuela's 23 state governors and more than 300 mayors are less than a month away.
"This type of person must be in prison, not governing a state," said Chávez during an economic policy conference with Zulia business leaders on Saturday. "Rosales is morally dead; he has no values, and everything he represents is the death of the people."
According to Chávez, Rosales is a "mafia man" and a "thief" who has acquired 11 large ranches in Zulia and harbors drug-trafficking paramilitaries who terrorize the population and stifle the economic development projects funded by the federal government.
"What a coincidence, we have captured six gangsters in the last six months, all of them in Zulia. Why might this be? Because the governor of Zulia protects them," said the president.
Chávez assured the business leaders that his administration has no intention of stopping its investments in Zulia's oil, petro-chemical, and agricultural sectors, but that these plans would have to be revised if Rosales were to be elected as mayor of Maracaibo this November 23rd.
In response to accusations that Rosales has accumulated property by
way of front persons, functionaries from Venezuela's National
Institute of Land (INTI) inspected two of Rosales's farms in Zulia on
Monday, and plan to inspect more in the coming days.
Also, the current mayor of Maracaibo and candidate for governor of
Zulia on the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) ticket, Gian
Carlo Di Martino, said he will solicit an investigation by the
Attorney General's office into Rosales's alleged funneling of state
lottery funds to private projects.
The president also said Rosales is "one of those who want to see me dead," citing intelligence reports and the arrest in Zulia of two men who allegedly intended to shoot down the presidential plane with grenade launchers last month.
Rosales is well known for his participation in the coup against Chávez in April 2002 and for having signed the decree that dissolved the constitution during that event. Rosales never went to jail for his involvement.
Rosales denied Chávez's accusations on Monday and accused the Chávez administration of supporting leftist Colombian guerrillas. He vowed to work with the political party he founded, Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era), to "use the tools the constitution and the laws give us against the president."
"Chavez is just as much of a man as I am and I am not afraid… he can say what he wants, but he knows that I defend the interests of Zulia in any land," said Rosales.
Last May, opposition leaders in the Zulia state legislature initiated a feasibility study for Zulian autonomy, sparking worries within the Chávez administration that Zulia could launch a violent separatist movement like the one in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, especially if opposition leaders are elected next month.
The vice president of Un Nuevo Tiempo, Enrique Márquez, said the speculations about a separatist movement and an assassination plot are "a mechanism that Chavez is using to try in some way to solidify the Chavista vote."
Chávez, however, said it is experience which has led him to seek Rosales's imprisonment. "My circumstances are different than they were ten years ago; I am not as naive as before," he told the crowd of business leaders.
Chávez also said he will not attend the 18th Iberian-American Presidential Summit in El Salvador this week because Rosales, along with the CIA and the FBI, are plotting with Venezuelan military officials in Central America to assassinate him.
Earlier this month, Chávez's security team detained three men who violated the security perimeter around the stage at a rally where Chávez was speaking. The men told interrogators that they were sent by Rosales to take pictures.