Venezuela President Hugo Chávez said Tuesday that the US government can have access to one of its citizens detained as "a mercenary" after Washington called on Caracas to respect the Vienna Convention.
"Of course we will approve it. They request it today, and tomorrow they will have contact with the detainee," Chávez said on state-run television. Chávez on Friday announced the arrest of the man whom he described as a former US marine who entered the country illegally from Colombia. The detainee, who has not been named, was carrying a notebook full of geographic coordinates that he tried to destroy, the president told journalists.
"I am struck by the fact that this has happened just a few weeks before the [Venezuelan presidential] elections," he said. "It sends a powerful signal, how this citizen wanted to illegally enter the country, to do who knows what [...] The certainty is that this forces us to activate many more alarms everywhere."
But US diplomats remain skeptical about the arrest. "We are not making anything up," Chávez said in response to Washington's doubts, explaining that the suspect is of Hispanic origin, and his passport showed that he traveled extensively in the Middle East and Asia, including Iraq in 2006, Afghanistan various times around 2004, and Jordan in 2007. "He has military background. He confessed to having served in the Marines," Chávez said, adding that no charges have been filed against him yet.
On Monday, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Washington was not notified of any arrest of a former marine.
"We've seen these claims by the Venezuelan Government, but we have not been notified by them formally about the arrest of this alleged US citizen. So given the fact that we haven't been notified, we haven't seen him, we don't know of anybody that would fit this category, our message back to the Venezuelans is that if, in fact, they have detained a US citizen Venezuela must now comply with its obligations under the Vienna Convention, notify us, and allow access."
After dealing with two bouts of cancer treatment in a year, Chávez is running for a third term. According to most polls he is leading his opponent, former state governor Henrique Capriles, by double-digit figures.