Venezuela arrests Colombian fugitive said linked to terror plot
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Saturday that his government captured the head of the Colombian criminal gang Los Rastrojos and linked the fugitive to alleged plans by an opposition party to carry out terrorist acts.
“We have captured the head of Los Rastrojos in Carabobo state, and he is providing testimony and evidence of who hired him and why they brought him to Venezuela,” the president said during a meeting with thousands of his followers outside Miraflores presidential palace.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez identified on Twitter the captured crime boss as Wilfrido Torres Gomez, alias “Neco,” wanted in Colombia for criminal acts in the region of Puerto Santander.
Rodriguez had previously told a press conference that several Central American paramilitaries entered Venezuela from Colombia on Feb. 23 amid the violence unleashed on the border when the opposition tried to bring humanitarian aid into the country.
Rodriguez linked those paramilitaries to Popular Will, the party of National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela on Jan. 23 and is accepted as such by around 50 countries.
Maduro said authorities located Torres Gomez thanks to tips provided by Roberto Marrero, Guaido’s chief of staff, detained early last Thursday after his home was raided and military weapons and large amounts of cash were found.
About the accusations this Saturday, Guaido has said nothing as yet, though he did make light of the accusations against Marrero.
Venezuela has been going through a new stage of political crisis ever since Maduro was sworn in last January for a new term in office that is not recognized by the opposition or by much of the international community, and in response, Guaido proclaimed himself interim president.
Guaido on Saturday asked the militant opposition to remain “confident” and to stay “in the streets,” upon completing the second month of his challenge to Maduro.
“I ask for your presence in the streets and an intangible: confidence, not in Juan Guaido, confidence in yourselves...and in what we are going to achieve,” the opposition leader told a meeting with thousands of followers in the northeastern state of Anzoategui.
The United States, which has been at odds with Venezuela since Maduro’s late predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez , took office in 1999, immediately recognized Guaido when he declared himself acting president.
Guaido has since been recognized by dozens of other countries, including much of Latin America and the major European powers with the exception of Italy.
Washington and its allies agree with the Venezuelan opposition that Maduro’s re-election last May lacked legitimacy.
China, Russia and India are among the scores of nations that continue to recognize Maduro.
The ongoing political standoff comes amid a severe economic crisis in Venezuela marked by shortages of basic goods and hyperinflation.