President Hugo Chavez’s spokesman on Friday accused “terrorists” training in Florida of being behind the assassination of a top prosecutor who intended to try backers of Venezuela’s 2002 coup.
Danilo Anderson was killed by two explosions that tore through his SUV as he was driving in the capital just before midnight Thursday. The killing shook this oil-rich South American nation and raised the specter of further violence.
As authorities called for calm, hundreds of mourners, some weeping and others angrily shouting “Justice!”, watched while a coffin bearing his body was brought into the attorney general’s office building in Caracas.
Information Minister Andres Izarra said the assassination of Anderson — known among Venezuelans as the “super prosecutor” — was clearly aimed at derailing his investigations and prosecutions of those who supported the coup, in which 19 people were killed and almost 300 wounded.
Izarra blamed Venezuelan exiles in Florida, echoing Chavez’s earlier accusations that Cuban and Venezuelan “terrorists” were training in Florida to execute him and were using the media to call for his removal.
“We want the government of the United States to explain how it is that these terrorist groups that act with total freedom in Florida ... make these statements through the media under the government’s nose,” Izarra said.
The U.S. Embassy did not immediately return calls seeking comment. While the United States remains Venezuela’s main buyer of oil, relations between the Chavez and Bush administrations have been testy.
Chavez has blasted the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, while Washington is unhappy with Chavez’s close links with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and attempts to centralize power.
The killing of the 38-year-old prosecutor heightened tensions in the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter just as a political crisis that gripped the country for the past 2½ years was easing.
Opponents of Chavez, a fiery leftist and former army paratroop commander, failed to oust him in the two-day coup in April 2002, in a two-month national strike later that year and in a national referendum last August.
The political opposition has been largely silent and licking its wounds since pro-Chavez candidates swept all but two of 23 governorships in regional elections on Oct. 31.
Volatile political situation
But the assassination underscored that the political situation remains unstable with the potential for further violence.
Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon said C-4, a military-grade plastic explosive, was apparently used, set off by remote control. The explosions were so powerful they shattered windows in nearby buildings.
Anderson was alone in the car, and his body was so badly burned and mutilated that it was hours before authorities could conclusively identify him. A pistol he carried amid death threats and a cell phone were found intact in the wreckage.
Hundreds of Venezuelans gathered in front of the attorney general’s office in downtown Caracas to show their outrage at the attack. His coffin was brought in for a wake by a crowd of people singing the national anthem.
Charges of terrorism
“We are convinced that this was a brutal act of terrorism,” said Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel.
Anderson had been involved in several cases against opponents of Chavez, who was elected on his promises to help Venezuela’s majority poor. At the time of his death, Anderson was preparing a case against nearly 400 people who signed a declaration supporting interim President Pedro Carmona during the coup.
Chavez was returned to power amid a popular uprising denouncing the coup and a split among Venezuela’s armed forces into whether it should have been carried out. Carmona, a former business leader, is now living in exile in neighboring Colombia.