August 4, 2001

Onslaught of bomb threats, one explosion, alarm Venezuelans

                 CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- A recent explosion in a Caracas
                 church has heightened alarm over a series of bomb threats in
                 Venezuela's capital, where terrorism is an unfamiliar problem.

                  Last week's bomb injured a 25-year-old woman and destroyed a
                  confessional in a colonial church in downtown Caracas. On Friday, police
                  deactivated a bomb in the Caracas home of former Venezuelan President
                  Carlos Andres Perez.

                  Police have discovered dozens of explosive devices in subway stations,
                  schools, restaurants and street corners in the capital in recent months. The
                  incidents are adding a new sense of insecurity in a city already grappling
                  with a crime rate that claims dozens of lives each week.

                 "Of course we're scared. This is a country with a lot of unemployment and
                 poverty. There are a lot of frustrated people who are bored and have nothing to
                 do but cause trouble," said Miranda Gonzales, a Caracas secretary.

                 Venezuela has had its share of civil and military unrest but terrorism is a
                 problem most associate with other countries, such as its war-torn
                 neighbor, Colombia.

                 Police have not made any arrests or named any suspects in the incidents. Officials
                 vow to capture those responsible, but Venezuelans are getting impatient with the
                 lack of progress.

                 "I can't believe that we are so incompetent that we have not captured even one
                 person behind the incidents," said Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena on

                 Police dismissed Pena's remarks, insisting that investigations are advancing.

                 "Politicians have their own interests that don't always have the best intentions,"
                 said Miguel Dao, chief of the Technical Investigative Police, Venezuela
                 equivalent to the FBI.

                 The Catholic Church temporarily closed eight churches after the explosion. On
                 Thursday, a priest alerted the police after finding a black bag under a church
                 bench that turned out to only contain batteries and cables.

                 The same day, police deactivated explosive devices in a metro station and a fast
                 food restaurant.

                 Interior Minister Luis Miquilena dismissed the anxiety as "exaggerated." Still, the
                 government deployed the National Guard to protect several churches.

                 "The government is using all of its security and intelligence resources to put a
                 stop to this and detain those responsible," said Defense Minister Jose Vicente
                 Rangel on Friday.

                 Officials claim the bomb threats are part of a growing conspiracy to destabilize
                 President Hugo Chavez's government. Chavez has said the same thing about
                 accusations that he helped hide former Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro

                 Dao suggested that someone is trying to create friction between the government
                 and the Catholic Church. Chavez has clashed with Catholic leaders who have
                 criticized his leftist "revolution" to reform what he says was an elitist and
                 corrupt political system.

                 "There has to be a political interest. It can't be explained in any other manner,"
                 Rangel said.

                   Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.