CARACAS, Venezuela — Authorities here have arrested the US captain of a cargo ship suspected of arms trafficking, reportedly after three rifles were found on board his “Ocean Atlas” vessel.
The news comes just a month after a US citizen was detained for illegally entering the South American country from Colombia.
According to a crew member who spoke to Reuters, authorities held the ship's 14 staff members under armed guard on Wednesday while the captain was interrogated before being arrested. The vessel, according to the crew member, has been detained in Maracaibo for more than a week.
A US consular official has joined the crew which is due to testify before local authorities Friday.
President Hugo Chavez, who is up for re-election in four weeks, is expected to capitalize on the incident, as he did last month. That time, he suggested that the arrested man had the “appearance of a mercenary.” The president added, without evidence, that the man may have been recruited by his opponents to stir up trouble around the Oct. 7 election.
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It all plays into the socialist president’s anti-American rhetoric just in time to win over his domestic audience.
On Wednesday evening, Chavez spoke about the infamous 2006 nadir in US-Venezuela relations when he called then US President George W. Bush “the devil,” as he spoke at the lectern at the United Nations. “The devil came here yesterday,” he said, histrionically sniffing the air. “It smells of sulfur still.”
Chavez had made the sign of the cross before clasping his hands in prayer and then describing Bush’s “domination, exploitation, and pillage of the peoples of the world.”
Speaking on state television, Chavez revealed this week that the great show of oratory was entirely unscripted. “You think I planned to say
that? No, no, no. It happened in the moment,” adding that he really could smell sulfur.
With just 28 days to go before Venezuela’s pivotal election, the most closely fought yet, Chavez is ramping up both rhetoric and airtime as his contender Henrique Capriles darts about the country hoping to win voters.
Polling in Venezuela is an impossible quagmire of opinion and many firms are rarely cited. Both the government and opposition regularly
jump on and publicise those polls that favor their campaigns.
Datanalisis, however, is the most respected pollster in Caracas and it has consistently put Chavez ahead, though with a narrowing gap of around 12.5 percent. Consoltures 21, another respected firm, puts Chavez and Capriles neck and neck.