Venezuela: Officers arrested over assassination plot

A March 9 article reported that the previous day Venezuelan authorities had arrested two National Guard officers over an alleged plot to assassinate Hugo Chavez, the country's socialist president. Agents from Venezuela's Military Intelligence Directorate took retired General Ramon Guillen Davila and his son, Capitan Tomas Guillen, into custody. They will be tried for instigating rebellion.

The previous night, state-run TV channel VTV broadcast an intercepted phone call in which Guillen discussed their plans, which he indicated involved other military officials.

On March 7, the International Herald Tribune reported that Guillen Davila's attorney claimed his client was innocent of the charges, but that he is opposed to the "communist regime" in Venezuela on the grounds that it "violates democratic principles".

The Venezuelan government has claimed in the past to have foiled attempts on Chavez's life originating from the pro-capitalist right-wing opposition. Chavez has accused the US government of collaborating in plots on his life. The US backed a coup attempt against Chavez in 2002, during which the president was kidnapped and coup leaders allegedly gave orders for his assassination. In 2004, 150 right-wing Colombian paramilitaries who had been hired to kill Chavez were arrested on the ranch of an opposition leader.

Two days before the arrest, Chavez had warned in a televised interview that assassination plots were gathering pace. As evidence, he highlighted the appointment of John Negroponte as US deputy secretary of state, calling him a "professional killer". This was a reference to Negroponte's infamous role while ambassador to Honduras during 1980s, when he helped organise US-backed death squads responsible for the killing of thousands of people.

Chavez said that the CIA has stepped up its activity against Venezuela and that his government had uncovered a plot involving right-wing Cuban terrorists associated with former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles, who was responsible for the bombing of a Cuban plane that killed 73 civilians in 1976. Chavez said he has ordered top security officials to begin "an offensive because we have been on the defensive on that issue", adding "It is possible that surprises could soon occur".