CARACAS — Venezuelan authorities are on high alert due to possible violent actions by radical sectors of the conservative opposition as the Aug. 15 recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez approaches. Almost all polls show Chavez winning the recall with an advantage ranging between 8 and 31 percent, depending on the poll.

Interior Minister Lucas Rincon alerted the public Aug. 7 about possible terrorist acts that sectors of the anti-Chavez opposition could be preparing to trigger a “Madrid effect” that could alter the outcome of the referendum.

Rincon said that the government has been implementing security measures for months in order to guarantee a peaceful and uneventful recall vote.

There is reason to be concerned. An arms cache valued at $53 million was discovered in Brazil last month, which seems to have been destined for radical right-wing Venezuelan opposition groups seeking to sabotage the recall referendum. Over 40 pounds of C4 explosives and detonators have been stolen from military bases in Venezuela.

Chavez continues to enjoy strong support, particularly among millions of working-class and impoverished Venezuelans. Ultimas Noticias, Venezuela’s highest circulation newspaper, reported Aug. 7 that pro-opposition pollsters Consultores 21 gave the “no” recall option 55 percent support, and 45 percent for the opposition’s “yes.”

On July 30, the polling firm North American Opinion Research unveiled the results of their latest survey, giving the “no” recall option 63 percent against 32 percent for the opposition’s “yes” option, a 31 percent advantage to Chavez.

Threats of a coup-like action against Chavez are not new. Venezuelan authorities recently announced the dismantling of a civilian-military group that sought to overthrow the Chavez government with the aid of Colombian paramilitary forces. Several civilians — some of them government employees, some retired — and three active military officers are being investigated in the case.

On July 30, Miguel Rodriguez, the director of Venezuela’s Preventive and Intelligence Services Directorate (DISIP), presented step by step how the plot was dismantled.

In May of this year, a group of more than 100 paramilitaries were captured at a farm near Caracas where the group was training in preparation for several attacks on government targets.

The Colombian paramilitaries entered Venezuelan territory with the help of immigration authorities in the bordering state of Tachira. Among the Tachira authorities being investigated are retired National Guard sergeant José Rafael Rojas and immigration officer Julio Jaime Hernandez, who accused Rojas of ordering the transportation of the paramilitaries to Caracas. Hernandez went into hiding after testifying before the attorney general’s office, and is being sought by authorities. Rojas was already charged with military rebellion.

In another case, authorities revealed that plans to assassinate President Chavez were discussed at an April 23 meeting at a Caracas Country Club house owned by Lion Delfino. “Any operation that does not involve the killing of the president would be considered a failure,” said one of the meeting’s participants, according to authorities who infiltrated the meeting. The participants also discussed targeting Col. Jonathan Faría, who heads the National Guard’s 56th Garrison, and Col. Arcon Matos, as well as killing of members of pro-Chavez civilian groups in the 23 de Enero Caracas neighborhood.

One of the participants at the Country Club meeting, an Air Force colonel who has yet to be identified, proposed using an F-16 plane to bomb Chavez during his weekly live television show.

The DISIP has also accused ex-dictator Pedro Carmona Estanga of being involved in the plot from Colombia, where he lives under political asylum.

Cuban-Venezuelan businessman Robert Alonso, who owns the Caracas farm where the Colombian paramilitaries were based, was also named by investigators as part of the ongoing plot to topple Chavez. Alonso remains at large.

– Reprinted with permission from