CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez has dismissed claims from Spain that two members of Basque separatist group ETA were trained in Venezuela as part of an international campaign to besmirch his government.
“It’s all part of the orchestra which keeps sounding against the Bolivarian Revolution,” Chavez, who casts himself after Venezuela’s 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, said of the accusations by Spanish prosecutors.
Echoing a Spanish judicial accusation six months ago that triggered a diplomatic spat, prosecutors said two suspected ETA members arrested last week were trained in France and Venezuela in the summer of 2008.
“There’s a permanent conspiracy against real democratic processes,” Chavez told state television late on Monday, reading a government statement denying any links with ETA.
“It’s like a stuck record — they say there are Hezbollah camps here, there are terrorists, there’s an atomic bomb, there are scientists selling secrets to our country ... All based on supposed rumours.”
In power since 1999, Venezuela’s socialist leader also has faced long-running accusations of supporting leftist guerrillas in neighbouring Colombia. He denies that, too.
In March, a Spanish judge set off a diplomatic incident when he accused the Chavez government of assisting ETA rebels in 2007. He said the rebels were given a Venezuelan military escort to a jungle site where they gave a course on handling explosives to visiting members of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Last month, ETA said it had decided to stop armed attacks but the announcement was greeted with scepticism by analysts and the Spanish government since the group has called several cease-fires in the past and broken them.
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott