Venezuela government says it thwarted attempted 'coup'

Maduro takes part in a ceremony to celebrate the 198th anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo in Venezuela.
Maduro takes part in a ceremony to celebrate the 198th anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo in Venezuela.PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuela's socialist government said on Wednesday (June 26) it had derailed an attempted coup, claiming the United States, Colombia and Chile colluded in a military plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro and install a general and former defence minister in his place.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the plan involved active and retired army officers and was to have been executed between Sunday and Monday this past weekend.

"We were in all the meetings to plan the coup d'Etat. We were in all the conferences," Rodriguez said, suggesting that government informers had infiltrated the alleged plotters during planning meetings.

He accused Colombia's right-wing President Ivan Duque of "planning coups, assassinations of the president" as well as implicating Chile's conservative President Sebastian Pinera and US National Security Advisor John Bolton in the plot.

At least six of the alleged plotters had been detained, the minister said in a televised speech in Caracas, presenting testimony from one of them, named as Lieutenant Carlos Saavedra.

Four of the officers were arrested last Friday, a move denounced by opposition leader Juan Guaido in a statement on Tuesday, though no details of the circumstances, or the reasons for their arrests, emerged.

Saavedra was identified as the nephew of retired General Ramon Saavedra, who was arrested Wednesday by intelligence agents in Venezuela's western Barinas state.

RECORDED CONFESSION

According to Rodriguez, surveillance of the plotters and Saavedra's recorded confession revealed that the plan envisaged the takeover of three military bases, including the La Carlota air base in Caracas.

The plotters hoped to spring Raul Baduel - a former defense minister under late president Hugo Chavez - from jail to proclaim him president, Rodriguez said.

"It is a military coup d'etat against Guaido or against President Nicolas Maduro?" Rodriguez joked.

Guaido is recognised as interim president by the United States and more than 50 other countries after the National Assembly leader said in January that Maduro's re-election last year was illegitimate.

Venezuelan authorities recently announced that 17 people had been charged with attempting a coup on April 30, during Guaido's failed attempt to inspire an uprising, when he called on the armed forces to rebel against Maduro.

The effort failed to shift the military's allegiance and Guaido was backed by only around 30 military personnel. The revolt sputtered out after two days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

Rodriguez accused Maduro's former intelligence chief Cristopher Figuera - who has defected to the United States - of seeking "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for supporting the abortive uprising.

Figuera "turned out to be a mercenary," the minister said in Caracas.

In a series of shock claims made to media in the United States, Figuera said members of Maduro's family and his government were engaged in money laundering and corruption, and alleged that Hezbollah cells were allowed to operate in Venezuela and raise funds.

Washington has imposed a series of crippling sanctions on Maduro's government, holding the president responsible for the collapse of the Latin American oil giant, which has seen millions flee the country amid widespread shortages of basic goods and medicines.

Russia, Maduro's staunchest foreign backer along with Cuba and China, announced earlier Wednesday it was withdrawing military "technicians."

It deployed the military personnel in Venezuela in a highly-publicised show of support for Maduro, who has been locked in a months-long power struggle with Guaido.