Venezuela government says it derailed a coup attempt, opposition denies
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Venezuela's socialist government said Wednesday it had derailed a coup bid, claiming the United States, Colombia and Chile colluded in a military plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro.
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. He also accused opposition leader Juan Guaido of planning "a bloodbath".
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.
According to Rodriguez, surveillance of the plotters and Saavedra's recorded "confession" revealed that the plan envisaged the takeover of three military bases, including La Carlota air base in Caracas.
The plotters hoped to spring Raul Baduel -- a former defence minister under late president Hugo Chavez -- from jail to proclaim him president, Rodriguez said.
Baduel was demoted last year by Maduro as part of a purge of senior military officers, which also included another general, Antonio Rivero, who the government said lives in the Dominican Republic and was one of the leaders of the coup bid.
"Is it a military coup d'etat against Guaido or against President Nicolas Maduro?" Rodriguez joked.
Guaido is recognized 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.
He dismissed the coup claims as a "new novel by the regime," saying the media had "lost count" of how many times the same accusations had been repeated.
He said he would continue to call on the armed forces to abandon Maduro.
"The call we have made and that we will continue to make, is to the military family, it's that the armed forces put themselves on the side of the constitution," he told reporters.
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.
Several figures close to Guaido have been detained in the wake of the uprising, though not the lawmaker himself.
However, in the wake of Rodriguez's accusations, he told reporters he had "frustrated" an attempt to kidnap several members of his entourage on a Caracas highway. The kidnappers were armed and "dressed as civilians" he said.
Ex-intel chief 'a mercenary'
In his speech, 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 US media, Figuera said members of Maduro's family and his government were engaged in money laundering and corruption, and alleged Hezbollah cells were allowed to operate in Venezuela and raise funds.
Washington has imposed crippling sanctions on Maduro's government, holding the president responsible for the collapse of the Latin American oil giant, which has seen millions flee 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-publicized show of support for Maduro, who has been locked in a months-long power struggle with Guaido.