Search for More Paramilitary Forces Continues in Venezuela

Venezuelan officials say that at least 50 more paramilitary soldiers are hiding out in Caracas. Authorities organized raids on numerous homes, warehouses, and even a police headquarters

Caracas, May 12, 2004 (—Venezuelan government officials say that at least 50 more paramilitary soldiers are hiding out in Caracas. So as to find them or clues for their whereabouts, the government organized raids on numerous homes, warehouses, and even a police headquarters, based on intelligence information. The Minister of Communication and Information, Jesse Chacon, said in a press conference that “we hope the intelligence corps can dismantle the plans before a tragedy occurs.”

More than 25 raids

Miguel Rodriguez, the director of the national investigative police, DISIP, said that his organization has carried out over 25 raids in the past two days. According to Rodriguez, “everything indicates that there is a well organized and financed plan whose fundamental objective is the elimination of the president of the republic, Hugo Chávez.” He also said that in the next few days the DISIP would release details of all of the raids and what was found.

The group of paramilitaries initially captured have been charged with rebelion. One of them was released, but must regularly present himself before a judge.
Credit: Venpres

Among the items discovered during one of the raids was an eight page document that, according to Rodriguez, details plans that include the participation of various active and retired military officers, many of which had participated in the occupation of a plaza in Altamira, a wealthy Caracas neighborhood during the course of last year.

One of the homes that were supposed to be raided yesterday was the home of Rafael Marin, a member of the legislature and former secretary general of the opposition party Acción Democratica, whose party had expelled him last year. Rodriguez said that one of the drivers of the paramilitary soldiers had informed the DISIP that one of the planning meetings took place in Rafael Marin’s home. However, an error in the judicial order for the search forced the military intelligence forces to leave without completing their mission.

The military’s district attorney, Rubén Darío Garcilazo, issued arrest warrants for ten active duty officers, who are said to be connected with the paramilitary forces that were arrested last Sunday.

Cisneros Ranch Raided

Another prominent home that was searched yesterday was the Hacienda “Carabobo”, which belongs to the family of Gustavo Cisneros, the media tycoon who owns the Spanish TV Network Univision in the U.S. and Venevision in Venezuela. Luis Queremal, a legal representative of the Cisneros family, said that “this is a campaign of discredit launched by the government against the Cisneros family.”

Gustavo Cisneros, a personal friend of US ex-president George Bush, is thought to be one of the main financers of the anti-Chavez movement. According to several sources, Mr. Cisneros was one on the main architects of the April 2002 coup against Chavez.

Venevision president, Víctor Ferreres, was quoted in the newspaper El Mundo as saying that the fact that Gustavo Cisneros’ ranch is located next to that of “that gentleman Alonso,” where the paramilitary contingent was arrested, is just circumstantial. “The Cisneros Group of Companies is willing to cooperate with any investigation,” said Ferreres, who added that the presence of Colombian paramilitaries in Venezuela does a great disservice to the opposition’s goals of ousting President Chavez by electoral means.

Local police take credit for discovering paramilitary forces

The opposition mayor of the municipality of El Hatillo, where the farm at which the paramilitaries were found is located, said it was the Hatillo Municipal Police, along with officers of Caracas’ Metropolitan Police, who were the one to first detect the Colombians, and alerted government authorities. Military and intelligence officials dismiss that version and claim that the capture on the paramilitary group is the result of three months of investigations.

Opposition and Media downplay claims of paramilitary activity in Venezuela

According to former vice-minister of citizen security and Chavez opponent, Luis Camacho Kairuz, the government wants to generate the impression of instability. “The national government is the only one that has the capability of mobilizing such a large number of people from the border” to the capital, said Camacho Kairuz.

Opposition deputy Ramon José Medina, of the Justice First (Primero Justicia) party, said in the television channel Globovision that what is happening with the paramilitaries is designed to distract the country from the presidential recall referendum.

Opposition political leader Domingo Alberto Rangel also condemned the attitude of the media. Rangel was interviewed on the state TV station Venezolana de Television, and directly criticized commercial media commentators such as Marta Colomina and Napoleon Bravo for giving only the opposition opportunities to speak on their TV shows. Rangel went as far proposing a split with sectors of the opposition, which, according to him, have no other interests than their own. “We can beat this government, but not with these pseudo-leaders from the past… It’s time for a split,” said Rangel.

Carter Center condemns presence of paramilitary in Venezuela

The Carter Center, which is helping mediate and monitor the recall process and discussions between the government and the opposition, issued a statement today, in which it “energetically condemns all types of irregular or paramilitary contingents, as well as the use of force to achieve political ends.” The statement added that “such a delicate issue” should not be used by political parties in order to “disqualify” the political adversary.

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