by Humberto Marquez
(IPS) CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. government has plans to assassinate him and thus trigger chaos that would allow it to intervene militarily and take control of the South American country's huge oil reserves.
Now, recent statements by the top U.S. official in Venezuela appear to back up his fears.
In an interview last weekend with the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel reported that former U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro had warned him of the possibility of an attempt on Chavez's life.
Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Venezuela from 2001 to 2004, "did not go into details, but felt he was obliged to share this information with us, for legal reasons," Rangel added.
In the mid-1970s, Washington officially prohibited the CIA from planning or participating in assassination attempts against foreign leaders, a prohibition widely disregarded.
On Tuesday, the current U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, admitted that "Vice President Rangel is telling the truth. On two occasions, Ambassador Shapiro informed the Venezuelan authorities of actions against the current administration." Brownfield did not clarify the origin of these actions.
"The first time was in April 2002, when he spoke to the (Venezuelan) president about the possibilities of a coup," said Brownfield.
On Apr. 11, 2002, Chavez was ousted in a short-lived coup, and business leader Pedro Carmona was named de facto president with quiet U.S. backing. But just two days later, Chavez was restored to power by loyal factions of the military, backed by massive popular demonstrations.
"The other time was in September or October, when (Shapiro) spoke with Vice President Rangel about a possible assassination attempt," said Brownsfield, who added that in both cases, the former ambassador was acting as required by U.S. law.
In January, Cuban President Fidel Castro, a staunch Chavez ally, also warned of plans to kill the Venezuelan leader.
Over the past few weeks, both at home in Caracas and during visits to Uruguay and India, Chavez has repeatedly referred to plans to put an end to his life, while Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez brought an official complaint before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington.
"We want to alert the international community to the fact that an event of this nature would not only threaten the peace in Venezuela, but in the rest of Latin America and beyond," said Rodriguez. If the president were in fact assassinated, he said, "who could control the reaction of the Venezuelan people, of the oil industry workers, for example?"
The longstanding friction between the administrations of Chavez and George W. Bush over issues like democracy, human rights, sovereignty and terrorism has done nothing to hinder the flow of Venezuelan oil to the United States, at the rate of a million and a half barrels a day, representing roughly 13 percent of total U.S. oil imports.
After Bush began his second presidential term in January, the U.S. government's war of words against Venezuela heated up, with newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling Chavez a "negative" and "destabilizing" force in the region.
"The empire is striking back," Venezuelan political analyst Alberto Garrido commented to IPS, noting that Washington has also accused Chavez of supposed ties with Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas, although without presenting evidence.
It has also attempted to raise alarm over the Venezuelan military's purchase of 100,000 Russian assault rifles, as well as calling on other governments of the region to pressure Venezuela. In addition, it sent a warship to the nearby island of Curaćao, a Dutch overseas territory.
Chavez has stated numerous times that "we have evidence: if something happens to me, the person responsible will be the president of the United States, George W. Bush."
The Venezuelan leader also frequently points to the example of neighboring Colombia, shaken by violent armed conflict for over half a century after the 1948 assassination of popular leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.
When asked to provide proof for the Venezuelan government's charges, Rangel responded, "This is rhetorical. The proof will be Chavez's corpse. Why not ask for proof from Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala or the Dominican Republic?" a reference to countries that have been subjected to bloody U.S. military intervention.
Venezuelan state television has repeatedly aired an excerpt from an interview, originally broadcast by a Miami, Florida television station, with Venezuelan TV actor and host Orlando Urdaneta, an outspoken Chavez opponent who now lives in the United States.
In the interview, filmed last year, Urdaneta says that "Venezuela's biggest problem can be solved with a rifle with a telescopic sight," obviously alluding to Chavez. When asked by the interviewer, "Who would give the order?," he replies, "The order has already been given."
According to Chavez, those plotting against his life in the United States intend for his death "to spark an upheaval that would pave the way for a military intervention, which would allow them to seize control of the Venezuelan people's oil."
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has labelled the Venezuelan leader's allegations as "ridiculous and untrue." In the meantime -- and despite his confirmation of the information that his predecessor provided to the Venezuelan authorities -- Ambassador Brownfield told Caracas television station Globovision that his government has no plans to assassinate Chavez or any other leader.
"During the close to 200 years that our two countries have existed, the United States has never invaded, is not currently invading, and will never invade Venezuela. Period," said Brownfield.
March 9, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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