CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez revealed for the first time on Sunday that some of his political allies have collaborated with Colombia's guerrillas in the past but he said he warned them to stop because it could give Washington an excuse to attack Venezuela.
Chavez said he contacted radical government supporters who had met with the leftist rebels, presumably to tell them to stop collaborating with groups that Colombia and U.S. officials consider terrorist.
The Venezuelan president didn't say exactly who was supporting the rebels.
"On one occasion they were meeting with Colombian guerrillas, and they were making plans to set up some bases for Colombian rebels in Venezuela behind all of our backs," Chavez said during a May Day speech to supporters in Caracas. "They don't realize it's the perfect excuse for imperialism to attack the people of Venezuela."
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe set off a diplomatic clash with Chavez that led to the withdrawing of ambassadors when he accused Venezuela of harboring Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, bases inside its territory. The South American neighbors share a long, porous border.
Uribe repeatedly accused Chavez of supporting the FARC after Colombian officials later leaked electronic documents they said were found on the computer of a FARC commander killed in a raid.
In the documents, rebel commanders discussed obtaining bazookas and other weapons from Venezuelan officials, including then-military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal.
Chavez at the time denied supporting the FARC and suggested the documents were fabrications. In Sunday's comments he said the contacts with Colombia's rebels were behind his back.
Chavez's opponents on Sunday said the president should have taken action when he discovered what his allies appeared to be doing.
Opposition politician Gustavo Azocar said Chavez should have ordered the arrest of any government allies who backed Colombia's rebels.
"If the president is admitting that some of his collaborators have contacted Colombian guerrillas and he didn't do anything about it, then he's an accomplice," Azocar said in a telephone interview following Chavez's speech.
Relations between Bogota and Caracas have greatly improved since Uribe left office and was replaced by the more pragmatic President Juan Manuel Santos.
Chavez also suggested that officials in Sweden and Germany could have been attempting to lay a trap for him by allowing a man suspected of being a European operative of the FARC to travel to Venezuela.
Chavez said authorities in those countries should have detained Joaquin Perez, who was deported to Colombia following his capture at Venezuela's main airport last week. An international order for Perez's arrest had been issued before he traveled to Venezuela.
"They planted him here to give us a hot potato," Chavez said.
Swedish and German officials haven't responded to Chavez's statements.
Several dozen demonstrators, including members of the leftist Bolivarian Continental Movement, protested outside the Foreign Ministry on Thursday and burned an effigy bearing photos of Chavez's foreign minister and information minister, accusing them of betraying Chavez's anti-imperialist ideals by deporting Perez.
Perez's deportation was the latest sign of a thaw in relations between U.S.-allied Colombia and Chavez's leftist government.
Santos said he personally called Chavez a week ago to inform him of Perez's pending arrival on a flight from Germany and to request his arrest. Perez was deported to Colombia two days later.
Colombian and Swedish officials say Perez is a Swedish citizen who renounced his Colombian citizenship years ago. Sweden officials have asked their Venezuelan counterparts to explain why they weren't informed before Perez was deported.
Perez ran a Swedish-based website that serves as the leftist rebels' news agency and regularly carries FARC statements. However, Perez has denied belonging to the guerrilla group.