The eight Colombian soccer players who were found murdered Saturday in the west of Venezuela were paramilitary fighters and part of a Colombian conspiracy to destabilize Venezuela, the country’s vice-President said Monday.
The Colombians were kidnapped while playing an amateur soccer game on October 11 and appeared shot to death on Saturday.
According to Defense Minister and vice-President Ramon Carrizales, Caracas suspect the Colombians of being paramilitaries. “The fact that they were playing soccer in a team called ‘los maniceros’ and were financed by someone who still hasn’t shown tells us that they were part of a group with a close relationship and common goals in the country.”
The group is most likely to be part of a paramilitary plot to destabilize the government in Caracas, Carrizales said, claiming the the money the Colombians had did not correspond to their job as vendors of peanuts. In addition, said the Defense Minister, the Colombians had been involved in violent acts and excessive drinking.
“The way they arrived and their identity as a group makes us think they are part of those infiltration plans of the Colombian government supported by domestic factors,” Carrizales said.
The Defense Minister accused the Tachira State Goverment of being part of the conspiracy. The Governor of the border state is a critic of Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez and had said guerrilla group ELN is responsible for the attack.
“What a coincidence … that the government of this state immediately seeks to hold responsible one of the groups that is part of the Colombian conflict when there still was no full awareness of what was happing there,” the official said.
Carrizales said the Colombian request to thoroughly investigate the massacre was shameless, as “what happened here is part of the Colombian conflict that permeates to our border and has generated great problems for us.”
“There always is cooperation and they know it, because we have handed over a great number of criminals wanted by Interpol for drug trafficking, money laundering or common criminal activities. We are not going to do their job and they will not blame us for their own inefficiency,” Carrizales added.
The bodies of the victims were handed over to Colombian officials at the border near Cucuta. On Monday, Colombia had sent a plane to Venezuela to pick up the bodies, but the plane was refused entry to Venezuelan territory. According to the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota, Venezuelan authorities took the remains to the Colombian border over land, because the Colombian government lacked the resources to pick up the bodies.
Venezuela and Colombia are involved in a diplomatic row over a Colombian plan to allow U.S. military access to Colombian military bases and Chavez’ alleged support for leftist Colombian guerrilla groups. Chavez accused Colombia of helping the U.S. carry out a plan to control Venezuela’s oil and says Bogota is sending right wing paramilitary fighters to Venezuela to kill him.