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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called an emergency meeting of his National Defense Council May 12 in response to the arrest of several Colombian paramilitary fighters on a country estate near the capital, Caracas. "Miami and Colombia are two points of an axis...where the invasion of Venezuela has been planned, trained and prepared," denounced Chavez, pointing to the "criminal hand of a group of evildoers." It was the first time Venezuela's National Defense Council has been convened in five years. (ANNCOL, May 14)

The 88 accused Colombian paras were said to be training for an assault on a military installation. The first group was captured May 8 on an estate belonging to Robert Alonso, leader of the opposition Democratic Coordination, according to the government TV station. Venezuelan security forces "succeeded in capturing more than 50 Colombian paramilitaries, clothed in battle dress, who were waiting to receive arms before being transported to different locations in the country," said Miguel Rodriguez, director of the Venezuelan Political Police (DISIP). He claimed that among the arrested is "a known Colombian paramilitary commander from the area of Cucuta," a city near the Venezuelan border. More arrests were made at locations outside Caracas the following day.

The TV report cited the testimony of one detainee that 130 paramilitaries had been in Venezuela for over a month, and were about to launch a raid on the National Guard's Urban Security Command in Caracas, with the aim of capturing weapons. These, in turn, would be used to arm a 1,500-strong force being prepared to overthrow the Chavez government. All those arrested were said to be Colombian army veterans.

"We have delivered a blow against coup-makers, the destabilizers and the terrorists," Chavez hailed the arrests on his Sunday radio program. Colombian Ambassador Mariangela Holguin responded to the affair by denying "emphatically that Colombia is involved in any sort of destabilization of Venezuela." (ANNCOL, May 11)

In the following days, the number arrested in the conspiracy rose to over 120, including eight active-duty Venezuelan military officers. (AFP, May 17)

Weeks before the arrests, a group of Colombian opposition leaders issued a declaration accusing President Alvaro Uribe of planning to attack Venezuela. The statement said that the decoration in Bogota April 14 of Cuban-born US Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a harsh opponent of Chavez, is part of a campaign to provoke a war between Colombia and Venezuela.

Among those signing the declaration were Gustavo Petro, federal deputy with the Independent Democratic Pole (PDI); Hernando Cardona of the Committee of Support and Solidarity with the Bolivarian Process, Luis Fernando Escobar of peace group Planeta Paz, and Ernesto Amezquita of the Colombian-Venezuelan Association for Peace.

Also in mid-April, Gloria Gaitan, daughter of the Colombian Liberal Party leader Eliecer Gaitan, assassinated in 1948, sought political asylum in Venezuela. On Venezuelan state TV, Gaitan accused Bogota of preparing an invasion by way of the Venezuelan state of Zulia.

On several occasions in 2003, Colombian paramilitaries penetrated Venezuelan territory, assassinating peasant leaders and supporters of Chavez's Bolivarian movement. (ANNCOL, April 16)

See also WW3 REPORT #95

Meanwhile, an association of victims of the April 11, 2002 abortive coup against Hugo Chavez announced they will bring suit at the World Court in the Hague as well as in the US courts charging US Ambassador to Venezuela Charles Shapiro with involvement in sniper shootings at the Llaguno Bridge in downtown Caracas.

Merly Morales, spokeswoman for the Association of Victims of the April 11, 2002 Coup (ASOVIC) pointed to special training in assault tactics that US forces reportedly gave members of the Caracas Metropolitan Police Phoenix Group and the Chacao and Baruta municipal police in the months leading up to the coup attempt. These police units were allegedly to spearhead the coup.

ASOVIC lawyers will also present tape recordings of conversations between Shapiro and the Caracas police commissioner during the street fighting on April 11. The recording is said to include references that the Phoenix Group should use long-range rifles to neutralize the "talibans"--as police called Chavez supporters. During the fighting, snipers opened fire on Chavez supporters who had gathered at the presidential palace and the nearby Llaguno Bridge.

According to Cort Greene from the pro-Chavez Hands Off Venezuela Campaign, Charles Shapiro has a history of involvement in destabilization campaigns. Greene says Shapiro was deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Chile at the time of the coup against Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973. (ANNCOL, April 13)

See WW3 REPORT #30

Chavez announced May 16 that his government will establish "people's militias" to counter destabilization efforts. "Each and every Venezuelan man and woman must consider themselves a soldier," Chavez said. He also announced that troop strength and weaponry would be beefed up in the official armed forces.

At a pro-Chavez rally in Caracas following the arrests of the Colombians, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said: "This march is in response to the conspiracy mounted by the Colombian oligarchy and the North American empire, but we will defeat them."

Chavez opponents call the plot theory a "media show" by the government designed to distract Venezuelans just as petitioners seeking a recall referendum against the president are attempting to validate 600,000 signatures. In March, the opposition gathered 3.4 million signatures, but the electoral commission has only validated 1.9 million of them thus far. (AFP, May 17)

(Bill Weinberg)


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, June 5, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.