Castro alleges U.S.-based exiles plotting to kill Venezuela's president
HAVANA (AP) -- Fidel Castro says his intelligence services have
discovered a plot by Miami-based Cuban exiles to kill Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, whose critics maintain he wants to imitate Cuba's
Castro said in an interview Tuesday night with Venezuelan journalists that
had not even told Chavez, a friend and ally of the Cuban president.
"In these dangerous cases it is always important not to lose a minute,"
said. "Chavez is learning about this along with you."
Castro offered no motive for the alleged plot.
The Cuban leader said the killing was to be committed in December by a
commando group with money provided by a member of the politically
influential Cuban-American National Foundation.
Although the foundation is unabashedly anti-Castro, its leaders have
repeatedly insisted they reject violence to overthrow the communist
Foundation spokeswoman Ninoska Perez laughed when asked about the
allegation late Tuesday. "What can I even say about this? It's so ridiculous,"
Officials in Venezuela were not immediately available for comment.
During the interview, Castro defended Chavez. Chavez praised the Cuban
Revolution when he visited the communist isle earlier this month.
"We are not brothers in Marxism, in socialism, in communism, but in dignity,"
said Castro, who in an unusual move donned a business suit rather than his
typical olive green military uniform for the conference.
Although the announcement about the alleged assassination plot was meant
for a worldwide audience, his earlier statements about Chavez were
apparently aimed at the Venezuelan people -- whose upper classes fear a
"Cubanization" of their nation.
In announcing the alleged plot, Castro read from documents by the
communist country's intelligence services, which said Cuban exiles laid out
plans for Chavez's assassination during a Nov. 18 meeting in Miami.
Castro even released what he said were the address and the phone number
of the office where the meeting allegedly took place.
Calls to the number early today reached an answering machine that invited
callers to leave a message but did not identify the business or the person on
Castro also alleged the group had close ties with Luis Posada Carriles,
Cuban exile living in El Salvador. The communist government accuses him of
responsibility in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner that killed 73 people.
Posada Carriles was twice acquitted of that action, but spent nine years
Venezuelan prison before escaping in 1985. Cuba also accuses him of
helping organize a string of bombings at Havana tourist locales in 1997,
including one that killed an Italian man.
Castro said the assassination squad was to arrive in Venezuela through
third country to prevent raising suspicions.
You know that Chavez's "own security corps is not well organized," Castro
told the dozen or so Venezuelan journalists. "That takes time."
The announcement came at the end of the news conference, which stretched
over more than four hours at the Council of State in Havana, where Castro
keeps his offices. Foreign journalists in Havana watched the conference live
via closed circuit television.
Chavez remains immensely popular a year after his election as president,
signs of discontent are growing. Some members of the middle and upper
classes fear the former paratrooper and unsuccessful military coup leader is
leading Venezuela toward authoritarian rule.
During a nationally televised speech by Chavez on Monday, residents of
affluent Caracas neighborhoods banged pots to protest a proposed
constitution to be considered in an upcoming referendum.
Chavez on Tuesday warned of civil war if voters reject the proposed
constitution, which he says is aimed at strengthening Venezuela's discredited
democracy, cleaning up corruption and reducing poverty.