By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan security forces have arrested an American citizen who entered the nation illegally with geographical coordinates in a notebook, President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday.
In the tense run-up to an October 7 presidential election, the socialist leader has frequently mentioned the possibility of violence by opponents with U.S. backing.
Foes say that is typical grandstanding nonsense from Chavez, intended to curry support with the masses for his re-election bid by presenting himself as a victim of "imperial" plots.
At a campaign rally in the coastal town of Catia La Mar, Chavez said the man, of Latin American origin, was arrested four or five days ago crossing into Venezuela from Colombia.
"He has the look of a mercenary. We are interrogating him," Chavez said, adding that the man had stamps in his passport from visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
When he was detained, the man tried to destroy a notebook full of coordinates, Chavez said in the middle of a speech carried live on state TV, implying a plot was afoot.
"We have reconstructed the pages," he said. "He says he was fleeing from someone ... It's a powerful sign. This citizen wanted to enter the country illegally, for who knows what reason. He cannot say where he was going, or who was waiting for him."
Chavez, who says he is completely cured after three cancer operations in the last year, has a healthy two-digit lead in most polls ahead of the presidential election.
He gave no more details of the case and U.S. Embassy officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has reveled in his role as a global champion against U.S. power in fiery rhetoric and frequent accusations that play well with his power-base among Venezuela's poor majority.
There is no love lost between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments, and Washington was quick to recognize Chavez's short-lived replacement after a 24-hour military coup in 2002. But President Barack Obama's administration has been avoiding direct confrontation during an election period in both nations.
"This obliges us to sound the alarm everywhere," Chavez told supporters of the arrest of the unnamed American.
"The losers have shown they are capable of anything," he said, in reference to opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and his supporters. "But I warn them: 'don't even think about destabilizing the country.'"
Exuding energy in the latest of near-daily rallies that many thought Chavez would be incapable of attending after two bouts of cancer in the last year, he predicted a "knockout" victory.
"We are going to win by 30 or 40 points," he said, to roars from a crowd waving the red banners of his ruling party.
Capriles, a 40-year-old former state governor who views Brazil's center-left model as his inspiration, says Chavez is deluding himself.
"David will beat Goliath, because together there are no obstacles we cannot overcome," he told cheering supporters in the western state of Trujillo.