Venezuela Opens Investigation of Assassination Plot Following Key Testimonies

The
Venezuelan Attorney General's Office formally opened an investigation into an
alleged assassination plot against President Hugo Chavez, following recently
publicized declarations by a former paramilitary hitman and a former Colombian
intelligence official.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Merida, October 1st 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- The
Venezuelan Attorney General's Office formally opened an investigation into an
alleged assassination plot against President Hugo Chavez, following recently
publicized declarations by a former paramilitary hitman and a former Colombian
intelligence official.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega announced the opening of the
investigation after National Assembly Legislator Reinaldo Garcia filed a formal
accusation in the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday. He cited the
groundbreaking testimony of former Colombian soldier Geovanny Velasquez, who is
currently serving a forty-year prison sentence for his crimes as a paramilitary
hitman.  

In a videotaped conversation with Colombian investigators earlier this
year, Velasquez said he and other Colombian paramilitaries attended a secret
meeting in Venezuela in 1999 at which Manuel Rosales, the former Venezuelan
presidential candidate and president of the opposition political party Un Nuevo
Tiempo, offered $25 million for Chavez's assassination. 

In the video, which Al Jazeera released in an exclusive report last
weekend, Velasquez revealed previously undisclosed names and
details of the alleged plot, and also said there are 2,500 Colombian
paramilitaries in Venezuela with the object of assassinating Chavez and
destabilizing his government.

Garcia's accusation also cited the declarations of Rafael Garcia, the
former director of information for Colombia's main intelligence agency, DAS.
During an interview with Telesur last month, the former DAS official named
several high level Colombian authorities who used their contacts within the
Colombian paramilitary organization AUC to assist the Venezuelan opposition in
acts of economic sabotage, assassinations, and plans to overthrow the Chavez
government between 2002 and 2004.

The AUC (United Self-Defense of Colombia) was formed in 1997 mainly to
fight against guerrilla insurgents from the Armed Revolutionary Forces of
Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). In recent years, dozens
of Colombian politicians, including allies of President Alvaro Uribe, have gone
to jail for their links to the illegal group, which both the U.S. and Colombia
formally consider a terrorist organization.

In an interview with Telesur on Tuesday, U.S.-Venezuelan lawyer Eva
Golinger said she obtained documents from the U.S. Southern Command, which show
the U.S. has detailed knowledge of the AUC and other Colombian paramilitary
groups and their operations.

"The U.S. has in its hands complete knowledge of the paramilitary
groups that are coordinating the terrorist activities in Venezuela," Golinger
said. "This is a small portion... who knows what else they have, this is the
little that has been declassified," said Golinger, who presented some of the
documents during the interview.

National Assembly Legislator Mario Isea declared earlier this week that
the apparent connections among the Colombian government, paramilitary groups,
the Venezuelan opposition, and the U.S. government should not be overlooked.

"Given the gravity of these indications," he said, referring to the
testimonies of Velasquez, Garcia, and Golinger, "this information should be
verified... we do not assume it to be completely true."

Referring to Rosales, who fled to Peru last April to avoid going to
trial on charges of corruption during his term as governor of Zulia, Isea said
the wealthy right-wing politician is more than a "common criminal," and in fact
"a kind of paramilitary commander, for which he would be incurring treason."

The Peruvian Foreign Ministry granted asylum to Rosales on the grounds
that he is being politically persecuted. This week, Guarico Governor William
Lara, who is also a national leader of Chavez's United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV), called on Peru to repeal Rosales's asylum so that Rosales may
be tried for the new charges brought against him in light of Velasquez's
testimony.

The presence of Colombian paramilitaries in Venezuela is well known.
Their threats against politicians, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and "social
cleansing" campaigns aimed at murdering sex workers, drug dealers, and homeless
people have been repeatedly denounced, especially in border states such as
Zulia. Also, more than a hundred heavily armed paramilitaries were captured in
a large estate outside of Caracas in 2004.