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Venezuela tries to reduce tension with Chile over murder of dissident Ronald Ojeda

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said he will take action to locate and arrest the individuals suspected of killing the anti-Maduro activist, whose body was found last month inside a suitcase covered with cement

Florantonia Singer
Fiscal Tarek William Saab
Venezuela's AG Tarek William Saab in Caracas in a file photo.Manaure Quintero (REUTERS)

Venezuela has decided to cooperate, at least on the diplomatic front that has been opened with Chile following the murder of former Venezuelan military officer Ronald Ojeda, who had taken refuge in that country. Venezuela’s attorney general Tarek William Saab reported that he will respond to requests for information from the Chilean prosecutor’s office regarding five people who have been linked to the crime.

Ojeda, a former lieutenant who opposed the government of Nicolás Maduro and a political refugee in Chile since 2018, was found dead on March 2, his body inside a suitcase buried beneath a building in the outskirts of Santiago de Chile, sprinkled with white lime powder to hasten decomposition and covered with cement. Saab has said that he will take action to locate the individuals designated for arrest, in the event that they are in Venezuela; he also noted that Chile’s request for mutual assistance was not carried out through the corresponding diplomatic mechanisms.

Prosecutors in Chile said Friday they plan to formally request that Venezuela extradite two of its citizens to stand trial for charges related to the abduction and killing of the dissident. Chile has assured that Ojeda’s murder was planned from Caracas. Two suspects of participating in the kidnapping of the Venezuelan dissident were identified as Maikel Villegas and Walter Rodríguez, and according to the investigation they have fled to Venezuela. The Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, demanded on Friday that Venezuelan authorities arrest and extradite the suspects for the kidnapping and murder of the former military man. Saab, however, did not allude to the political motivations that Chilean prosecutors said could exist in this case.

Saab pointed out that two of the five people about whom Chile requested information and criminal records are Ojeda himself and Captain Anyelo Heredia, detained by the Venezuelan intelligence services last December. Heredia has been the key witness and informer in the alleged assassination conspiracies against Maduro that the Chavista regime has denounced, and for which they have imprisoned the activist Rocío San Miguel and several collaborators of Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado and issued arrest warrants against journalists and YouTubers. The Minister of Communication of Venezuela, Freddy Ñáñez, brought up the hypothesis of Chilean authorities that there was a political motive behind the Ojeda case — disclosed on Friday by EL PAIS — and said that it was all part of a “dirty campaign against Venezuela.”

In Saab’s statement, posted in a message on X, the attorney general added that Venezuela is willing to collaborate in the fight against transnational crime and that the so-called Tren de Aragua, Venezuela’s largest criminal organization, also identified as the Structured Group for Organized Crime (GEDO), “was completely dismantled at the end of last year.” In September 2023 authorities seized the Tocorón Prison, which served as the Tren de Aragua’s center of operations, but the group’s leaders and main operators were not captured. For a couple of years, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and the United States have been denouncing the expansion of this group linked to the trafficking of migrants and women and extortion crimes.

Just three months ago, Chile and Venezuela had signed a cooperation agreement in criminal investigation between their heads of internal relations and the judicial police, in the midst of a regional insecurity crisis that has worsened with the expansion of criminal gangs. Chile, however, has been denouncing little collaboration from Venezuela on this issue and in the deportations of Venezuelan migrants with expulsion orders. “Venezuela is not collaborating with the countries of the south; it does accept expulsions from the United States to Venezuela, but it is not doing so with the countries of the south and is not taking responsibilty for this situation,” said the Undersecretary of the Interior of Chile, Manuel Monsalve.

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