President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez says security forces have detained a US citizen under suspicion that he is a mercenary or foreign agent, and insinuated the man could be part of a possible future effort to destabilize the South American nation if the opposition’s candidate loses in the upcoming presidential election.
"He has the look of a mercenary. We are interrogating him," Chavez said during a public speech, adding that the man had stamps in his passport from visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. In addition, Chavez said, the man had a notebook containing geographical coordinates which he attempted to destroy after being detained.
"We have reconstructed the pages," he said. "He says he was fleeing from someone ... It's a powerful sign. This citizen wanted to enter the country illegally, for who knows what reason. He cannot say where he was going, or who was waiting for him."
Chavez, who has recently battled cancer but says he is healthy, holds a formidable two-digit lead against his rival Henrique Capriles in most polls.
US embassy officials have not yet responded to media requests for more information.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has reveled in his role as a global champion against U.S. power in fiery rhetoric and frequent accusations that play well with his power-base among Venezuela's poor majority.
There is no love lost between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments, and Washington was quick to recognize Chavez's short-lived replacement after a 24-hour military coup in 2002. But President Barack Obama's administration has been avoiding direct confrontation during an election period in both nations.
# # #