Assassination plot against Chavez allies uncovered: Venezuela VP
A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds up a poster of Chavez at an event commemorating the 1958 fall of the country's dictatorship in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP / Fernando Llano)
Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013 9:16PM EST
CARACAS -- Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday the government has uncovered a plot to assassinate him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
"For some weeks we've been following groups that have infiltrated in the country and have the goal of trying to kill comrade Diosdado Cabello and me," said Maduro, speaking to a crowd of government supporters.
"For that reason, they've said that we're fighting because their macabre and criminal move is to make attempts against our lives - something they won't achieve - and later on try to blame one or the other," he added.
Maduro referred to the alleged plot after announcing he would travel to Cuba on Wednesday along with Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez to see the ailing Chavez, who underwent cancer surgery more than six weeks ago. The vice president didn't provide any evidence or say what sort of attacks the authorities believed to have been planned.
Maduro also didn't mention any arrests, but said: "Don't be surprised by the actions that will be taken in the coming days."
A large contingent of police and troops with rifles stood guard while Maduro spoke at an outdoor rally in Caracas.
The vice president and Cabello have often appeared together while Chavez has remained out of sight in Cuba following the operation. Speculation about potential divisions between the two men has arisen, but they have repeatedly insisted they are working together and united.
Maduro said Chavez has gone through a difficult recovery process after the Dec. 11 operation, and that now "he's on the path to a new phase."
Late Wednesday, Cuban state television showed Maduro arriving in Havana and being greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He made no comments.
Chavez, who was re-elected to another six-year term in October, has not appeared or spoken publicly since he left for Havana on Dec. 10. Government officials have said the 58-year-old president is improving after suffering complications including a severe respiratory infection, but they have not provided specific details about his health.
Even with Chavez absent, his supporters took to Caracas' streets by the thousands Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary of the country's democracy.
The president's supporters, many of whom wore T-shirts emblazoned with an image of the president's eyes, marched through the city in separate groups. They then gathered in the working-class neighborhood of 23 de Enero, which was built by Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, Venezuela's last dictator, and later named for the Jan. 23 date of his downfall.
"Our president has brought true democracy to our country. Nobody should believe opposition leaders who say that Chavez is a threat to democracy," said Angel Colmenares, a burly 44-year-old brick mason who waved Venezuela's red, yellow and blue flag as he marched with others through downtown Caracas.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Henrique Capriles joined thousands of government opponents at a separate gathering in a basketball arena in eastern Caracas where he dismissed the alleged plot by referring to the country's high murder rate, saying there are "attacks every day against more than 50 Venezuelans."
Chavez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup and returned to power within two days. In the years since, Chavez has periodically announced the discovery of plots against him and his government. However, arrests have been few and such claims have largely been unsubstantiated.
The opposition earlier this month had announced plans for a protest on Wednesday but scaled back their event after the government announced its supporters would fill downtown Caracas with their demonstration.
"They wanted a confrontation between Venezuelans," Capriles told reporters, referring to the government.
Capriles also accused the government of providing incomplete and contradictory information about Chavez by "saying the president is walking and telling jokes, but he doesn't communicate with the country."
Since Chavez took office in 1999, Jan. 23 has become a date that underscores Venezuela's political divisions, with opponents often using it to protest against Chavez's government.
"What's evident today is the deep fracture, the immense division, the strong polarization that characterizes Venezuelan society," said Tulio Hernandez, a sociologist and newspaper columnist.
"The group in power is permanently trying to demonstrate the other group, the dissident one, does not form part of the same political community," Hernandez said during a telephone interview, adding that government officials are attempting to portray opposition supporters are "enemies, not adversaries."