CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday alleged that U.S. intelligence agencies were behind a purported assassination plot that prevented him from visiting El Salvador.
Chavez had planned to attend the inauguration of leftist President Mauricio Funes in the Central American nation on Monday, but said he canceled his trip due to the alleged plot.
"I don't doubt that the intelligence organizations of the United States are behind this," Chavez said, accusing them of plotting with Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles to murder him.
He said Venezuelan intelligence services have "very precise information" that they were planning to launch rockets at the Cubana de Aviacion plane he was going to travel in.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas couldn't immediately be reached for comment. The U.S. State Department has denied similar accusations by Chavez in the past.
Venezuela has asked the U.S. to extradite Posada, a former CIA operative and opponent of former Cuban president Fidel Castro who is accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane off Barbados that killed 73 people on board. The 81-year-old Posada is accused of plotting the bombing while living in Venezuela but denies involvement.
Chavez has previously accused the U.S. of plotting to overthrow him or invade Venezuela, but Tuesday was the first time he has made such accusations since warmly greeting President Barack Obama at an April summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
"I'm not accusing Obama," he said. "I think Obama has good intentions, but beyond Obama there's an empire — the CIA and all its tentacles: Terrorists and paramilitaries."
Chavez also repeated a demand for the U.S. to turn over Posada to stand trial in Venezuela, saying: "Send us that murderer."
Posadas was arrested on immigration-fraud charges in Miami in 2005, and held at an immigration jail in El Paso, Texas.
An immigration judge in El Paso ordered that Posada should be deported in 2005, but said the ailing militant could not be sent to Cuba or Venezuela because of fears he could be tortured.
Posada has been freed on bond, living with his family in Florida, since 2007.