Arms Cache Destined for Venezuela Intercepted in Brazil

An arms cache that was discovered last month in Brazil and assumed to be intended for Colombia appears to have been meant for Venezuela. The discovery raised concerns that it might be intended for violence during the upcoming recall referendum.

Caracas, August 6, 2004—An arms cache valued at US$53 million discovered in Brazil last month has reopened concern that Venezuela’s presidential referendum scheduled for August 15th may be marred by violence.  Initial investigations by the Brazilian police proceeded under the assumption that the weapons were headed to Colombia’s FARC guerrillas. However, that hypothesis has been all but discarded now due to the characteristics of the material apprehended and logistical questions.  The second line of investigation now taking precedence suggests that the arms were headed to an armed group in Venezuela, although it is not clear whether the suspected group is pro-, or anti-Chávez.

Discovered on July 15th in Brazil during a drug-bust, recovered material included 15,058 cartridges of a calibre used by the Brazilian Police, .50 calibre cartridges for anti-aircraft guns used exclusively by the Brazilian military, 500 uniforms, and 5,000 electric detonators.  The initial Colombia hypothesis has been discarded largely for the following reasons:

1) Neither the FARC nor the AUC would have use for the military uniforms ordered;

2) Remote detonators are not commonly used by either side in Colombia;

3) Neither side uses the heavy anti-aircraft machine guns due largely to the difficulty in transporting them in the highly-mobile strategy of Colombian armed groups;

4) Transporting the material through the Amazon from Manaus in Brazil to Colombia is a much longer and more risky trip than from Brazil to Venezuela.

Fundamental to the ‘Venezuela link’, was a ‘regularization of residence’ order for the Brazilian pilot of the military cargo for June 26 in the Venezuelan city of Upata, far from the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Similarities in the material recovered and material confiscated from a paramilitary training ground discovered in Venezuela last May suggest that armed groups hostile to President Chávez may have been the planned recipients of the material.

On Sunday, May 9, 2004 Venezuelan authorities descended upon a paramilitary training ground in the Caracas suburb of El Hatillo, eventually arresting 130 soldiers clad in Venezuelan military fatigues.  The property belonged to Cuban exile Roberto Alonso who has been a vocal member of the violent extreme-right of Venezuela’s opposition to President Chávez.

At the time, Venezuelan authorities alleged a Miami-Colombian connection to the paramilitary presence, suggesting that former-Venezuelan military officers suspected of being behind bombings at the Colombian and Spanish embassies last year may have had a hand in paramilitary activity.

In an interview conducted with the Miami Herald from hiding, one of the officers in question, Gen. Felipe Rodríguez, claimed to have formed an underground group aimed at the violent overthrow of President Hugo Chávez and the installation of a military-civilian transition government.