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Chavez allies say video proves CIA plotted coup

Toronto Star

CARACAS (AP) Venezuelan legislators allied with President Hugo Chavez showed a videotape today they said is evidence the CIA was working with dissidents to overthrow the government of the oil-rich South American country.

The video, shown at a news conference at Venezuela's Congress, featured three men speaking in Spanish about espionage, making contacts with an unspecified embassy, and avoiding detection. The identities of those on the tape were unknown.

Governing party legislator Nicolas Maduro said the video showed U.S. secret agents training dissident military officers and municipal police in espionage and terrorist tactics. He said it was filmed in Venezuela in June.

In September, Chavez said his government had a videotape showing a CIA officer training Venezuelan police and civilians in spying.

"One day it will come out," Chavez said when asked about the videotape.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement the video presented by pro-Chavez legislators showed an event held by a private security company, not CIA agents. It added the U.S. government did not participate in the event.

"Accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency is conspiring against the Venezuelan government don't have any foundation," read the statement.

"The policy of the United States is to support democracy."

Maduro said dissident soldiers trained by the CIA were responsible for the bombings of two diplomatic missions in the Venezuelan capital Caracas in February and another Caracas building in April.

Maduro alleged undercover U.S. agents were funding and helping opposition governors stockpile thousands of weapons in a plan to topple Chavez's government.

Elements of the video allowed legislators "to deduce" U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro was involved, Maduro said.

"This is proof the CIA is acting here," said Maduro.

"These people must be defeated with the nationalism of all Venezuelans."

The video was given to Chavez allies by a police officer who decided to abandon the alleged CIA training program, Maduro said. He said the tape would be turned over to the U.S. Congress.

Officials in Washington recently dismissed allegations the CIA was helping opposition groups topple Venezuela's president.

Otto Reich, White House special envoy for Latin America, said earlier this month "it is totally ridiculous" to think U.S. agents are involved in any such effort.

The video was shown the same day dissident Venezuelan soldiers marked the one-year anniversary of their seizure of a Caracas plaza, which was declared "liberated territory by the armed forces."

Retired army general Enrique Medina, a leader of the dissidents, denied the group maintained ties with the CIA or took part in recent bombings.

"Those events have not even been investigated in an adequate manner," Medina told local Globovision television.

From a group of over 100 rebel soldiers who seized the plaza and threatened to remain there until Chavez resigned, only a handful still permanently occupy what had become a major rallying point for the opposition.

Facing a possible recall vote that could end his presidency next year, Chavez and his allies have recently accused Washington of destabilizing Venezuela and playing a role in a brief 2002 coup.

Chavez had not offered proof of the allegations but promised to produce evidence of the CIA's activity when the circumstances were right.

A leftist former paratrooper who has irked officials in Washington by forging strong ties with Cuba, Chavez has repeatedly warned U.S. officials not to meddle in Venezuela's domestic affairs.

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