Venezuelan protesters discuss explosives in video
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Two Venezuelan activists recently deported by Colombia have surfaced in a video that purportedly shows them discussing plans to stockpile weapons and launch attacks on government targets in apparent attempt to destabilize President Nicolas Maduro’s rule.
The video, which aired Monday night on a TV program known for battering the government’s foes, apparently contains excerpts from a Skype video conference Lorent Saleh and Gabriel Valles had with an unidentified third person, whose voice is distorted.
It’s not clear when the recording took place or how it was obtained. Its veracity could not be independently confirmed.
But in it the two students, apparently speaking from inside Colombia, freely boast of all sorts of covert plans. Operating under a diplomatic “facade” provided by a human rights group, Saleh remarks on plans for weapons training in Colombia’s capital and how he obtained two bricks of C4 explosives to “blow up” liquor stores, bars and eventually storm the offices of the National Electoral Council in the western state of Tachira, a hotbed of anti-government unrest earlier this year.
“We’re missing the ammunition and rifles but we’re going to arrange this with the people from Bogota,” Saleh says at one point.
In the video, the activists also make a passing mention of conservative, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a favorite bete noire of the Maduro government who frequently sparred with the late Hugo Chavez. Uribe was one of the first voices to criticize President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to deport the two activists, calling it a “national shame.”
Lawyers for the jailed students and the group they belong to, Operation Liberty, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
It’s unclear whether the activists acted on the apparent threats, which seem farfetched to many in both Colombia and Venezuela.
But the mere existence of the video, and photos leaked in Colombia showing Saleh carrying what looks like an assault rifle, are likely to further embolden government hardliners who accuse Maduro’s opponents of trying to violently overthrow his 17-month-old socialist administration. Until now, even as the rhetoric in deeply polarized nation has radicalized and protests against the government earlier this year turned violent, the country has largely escaped the acts of terror common in neighboring Colombia, which is engulfed in a half-century war with Marxist rebels.
Opponents of Maduro were outraged when Colombia this month deported the two youth, arguing the move was tantamount to sentencing them unfairly to decades in jail because of a lack of independence for prosecutors and judges in the neighboring country.
But officials in Bogota have defended their decision, saying the two violated the terms of their visa and represented national security risks, an apparent reference to their attempts to rub shoulders with members of Colombia’s military. Saleh faced an arrest warrant in Venezuela after he skipped parole in a criminal case stemming from his role leading a high profile hunger strike against the government in 2011. Neither men requested asylum, Colombian authorities said.
Goodman contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia.