CARACAS, Venezuela – The bodies of three soldiers who had called for "civic disobedience" against President Hugo Chavez's government have been found with their hands tied and faces wrapped with tape, forensic police said Tuesday.
No arrests had been made and authorities were still trying to determine a motive behind the killings of the three soldiers, Erwin Arguello, Angel Salas and Felix Pinto.
The bodies were found in Guarenas, 18 miles from Caracas, said Cesar Hernandez, chief of forensics homicide division. Two of the bodies were found with multiple bullets wounds, Hernandez said, refusing further explanation. He said an autopsy on the three bodies was pending.
Hernandez said investigators have information linking the three soldiers to a group of over 100 dissident officers who seized a Caracas plaza on Oct. 23 and declared it "liberated territory," Hernandez said.
"We know they visited the plaza. We also know they were missing since Thursday. We presume they were slain the same day in different locations," said Hernandez.
Dissident officers supported a nationwide strike called Dec. 2 to demand Chavez's resignation or early elections. But its leaders — business groups, labor unions and leftist and conservative politicians — agreed to end the protest Feb. 3 in all areas but the crucial oil industry.
Some of the dissident officers participated in a mid-April coup last year that briefly ousted Chavez. Loyalists in the military returned Chavez to power two days after the uprising.
Chavez, a former paratrooper, accuses dissidents of attempting to provoke widespread lawlessness in an effort to spur another rebellion against his government.
Over 300 dissident officers were discharged, suspended from their posts or transferred to rural garrisons after the April coup.
Chavez was first elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000. He promised to wipe out the corruption of previous governments and redistribute the country's vast oil wealth to the poor majority.
His critics charge he has mismanaged the economy, tried to grab authoritarian powers and split the country along class lines with his fiery rhetoric.