The Venezuelan government has revealed details of an alleged plot to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro.
Jorge Rodríguez, mayor of Libertador, a municipality west of the capital, held a press conference at the National Theater in Caracas on Wednesday to give the media further information about the alleged coup attempt. President Maduro had already mentioned the plot the night before on his television program, En contacto con Maduro.
Top officials from the Chavista movement – Vice President Jorge Arreaza, National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, First Lady Cilia Flores and other party leaders – joined Rodríguez in accusing former representative María Corina Machado of plotting to assassinate Maduro.
The allegations are based on email messages the government said it intercepted from two webmail accounts. The writers of the emails discussed plans to “annihilate Maduro.” The government rests its murder accusation on that phrase, even though it could also be taken as a reference to the president’s political demise.
Machado admitted ownership of the email accounts in question. She allegedly sent those intercepted messages between March and May 2014 during the ongoing demonstrations calling for Maduro’s resignation. In March, when the protests had crippled everyday business in the largest cities, the ousted representative supposedly told an advisor, the lawyer and former congressman Gustavo Tarre Briceño, that some members of their own camp showed little solidarity for the cause that she and opposition leader Leopoldo López were fighting for.
“Kevin Whitaker reiterated his support and indicated new steps to take,” Machado allegedly wrote. “We have a bigger checkbook than the regime and we can use it to break the international security apparatus they have constructed using the Venezuelan people’s money.”
Whitaker, the American ambassador to Colombia, told Spanish news agency Efe in Washington that the allegation is “false and baseless.” “We have often seen the Venezuelan government try to remove attention from its own actions by blaming the United States for events taking place within Venezuela,” another American source said. “This accusation reflects a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government when it comes to the situation it is facing at home. It should respond to the people’s legitimate demands.”
Rodríguez also showed messages between Machado and former presidential candidates Diego Arria and Henrique Salas Romer to prove that the demonstrations are not spontaneous gatherings. They are events “organized by the right wing” to provoke “a gradual coup d’état,” he said.
In March, Maduro announced the arrest of three air force officers on conspiracy charges. So far no details about the alleged plot have come to light, but officials have promised to provide further information in the coming days.
The US House of Representatives has passed a bill against the government repression in Venezuela
Machado has cancelled a scheduled trip to Panama in order to file a formal complaint against the government employees who intercepted her private messages. “The government is trying to intimidate one citizen while the country is falling apart,” she said. Machado told the press that she stopped using one of the accounts after personal pictures ended up distributed on social media. “April 21, 2013 was the last time I used it so all the messages sent from that account and the words used are false.”
Meanwhile, the vigorous protests of February and March have gradually lost their strength. In the largest cities, brief skirmishes between demonstrators and the police still occur, but the government seems to have the marches under control. Now, the excutive appears poised to bring down the opposition's leadership. With Leopoldo López in prison and Machado ousted from office, the murder allegation deals a strong blow to the opposition’s lobbying efforts abroad.
The government is also trying to drive a deeper wedge between opposition leaders. “We want to invite the Democratic Unity Roundtable to a meeting so they can tell us whether they were involved in these plans,” Rodríguez said at the press conference, which was broadcast nationwide. “If they did not, then we have to ask whether they are playing double agents. One day, good cop. One day, bad cop.”
The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that will sanction Venezuelan government workers who participate in activities violating human rights. The bill will now go to the Senate. If passed, the proposal will be sent to the White House for President Obama’s approval.
Translation: Dyane Jean François