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Venezuelan Authorities Search for Bombing Suspects - 2003-02-26

Venezuelan authorities are searching for those responsible for two bomb attacks that took place early Tuesday against the Spanish embassy and the Colombian consulate in Caracas. The blasts followed a verbal attack on both foreign governments by President Hugo Chavez.

In the course of his weekly TV and radio show, Hello, Mr. President, Hugo Chavez last Sunday launched a bitter attack on foreign leaders who had expressed concern over the jailing of an opposition figure. The United States, Spain, Colombia and the Organization of American States, in the person of secretary-general Cesar Gaviria, were all subjected to a tongue lashing by the president. Mr. Chavez said they should mind their own business and stop interfering in Venezuela's sovereign affairs.

Just 36 hours later, someone set off two large bombs apparently using plastic explosive detonated by remote control - outside buildings belonging to two of the countries concerned, Spain and Colombia. The interior of the Colombian consulate was 80 percent destroyed, while the building housing the Spanish technical cooperation mission suffered severe damage to its gate and exterior wall. In both cases several nearby buildings lost all their windows, and four people were slightly hurt.

Had the explosions taken place during daylight, the death toll would have been heavy. This is the first time that such attacks have taken place in Venezuela, although grenades have been thrown at diplomatic missions in the recent past.

Found at the scene Tuesday were flyers critical of alleged foreign intervention, signed by two radical groups which support the Chavez government. But there is considerable doubt that they were in fact responsible.

The interior minister, General Lucas Rincon, denied that the president's verbal condemnation had triggered the attacks. Vice president Jose Vicente Rangel criticized some opposition figures for immediately blaming the government. Some supporters of the Chavez regime said the opposition had more to gain, since it wanted to oblige foreign countries to take a more active role.

Whoever was in fact responsible, few believe they will be caught. So far not a single case of political violence has been resolved since the Venezuelan crisis began about 18 months ago, and the fear is that the escalation will continue. Although government and opposition signed a non-violence pact a week ago, the situation has worsened since then, and some in the opposition are even talking of withdrawing their signatures from the agreement.