U.S. officials see "mercenary" suspect in Venezuela

Reuters News
|
Posted: Aug 15, 2012 11:38 AM
U.S. officials see "mercenary" suspect in Venezuela

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Two U.S. diplomats on Wednesday visited an American man jailed in Venezuela whom President Hugo Chavez says he suspects of being a mercenary, the U.S. Embassy said.

"We have been granted consular access to a detainee. We were just told this morning 'he is ready to see you now,'" an Embassy official told Reuters.

Implying a U.S.-backed, anti-government plot was afoot less than two months before a presidential election, Chavez announced the detention last week, saying an American citizen of Hispanic descent had been found entering illegally from Colombia.

He sought to destroy some coordinates in a notebook at the time of his arrest, and has resisted interrogation beyond identifying himself as a former U.S. Marine, Chavez has said.

Foes have scoffed at Chavez's statements, saying it is typical of him to invent tales of foreign-inspired aggression against him at election time. Washington has given no detailed information on the case, beyond pressing for consular access.

Though there have been constant diplomatic flare-ups between Washington and Caracas since the ferociously "anti-imperialist" Chavez took power in 1999, the latest incident does not appear to be mushrooming into a major dispute.

Chavez, 58, is fighting for another six-year term at the October 7 vote, but faces a vigorous campaign from a united opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. Chavez also has been undergoing cancer treatment in the past year.

Privately, Western diplomats in Caracas say the roots of the problem were probably in neighboring Colombia, not Venezuela, with the American apparently fleeing some sort of problem there.

U.S. President Barack Obama, also seeking re-election in November, has kept a low-profile line on Venezuela this year despite calls from his rival, Mitt Romney, to take a tougher stance against Washington's fiercest critic in the region.

(Editing by Mario Naranjo and Vicki Allen)