Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami confirmed Tuesday that the socialist nation has detained eight Colombian nationals on suspicion of espionage.
“There are currently eight Colombians under arrest for allegedly committing the crime of espionage,” El Aissami said, adding that Venezuela officials had seized photos found on a camera of Venezuelan military telecommunications towers, roads, bridges and highways.
“Commander President Hugo Chavez has denounced these [photos] as sabotage, and now there is evidence to say that in effect there was an act of sabotage,” El Aissami said.
The justice minister said that the investigation is in its preliminary stages, and that a military prosecutor from the state of Aragua had been put in charge of the Colombians’ case.
A Venezuelan army search of the business’ premises turned up Colombian military identity cards belonging to two of those arrested.
According the family of detained Canadian-Colombian doctor Luis Carlos Cossio, who took the photo, the dual citizen is an avid photographer and is not a spy, though he worked for a time as a doctor in the Colombian army.
Diplomatic ties between Colombia and Venezuela were severed in 2009, after Colombia signed a controversial pact with the U.S. which grants the Americans access to seven Colombian military bases. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that the pact is part of a scheme by the U.S. to undermine sovereignty in the region.
Colombia and Venezuela have intermittently locked horns since Chavez took office more than a decade ago. Venezuela often complains about spillover from Colombia’s long guerrilla war, while Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s government says Chavez has not done enough to stop FARC guerrillas from taking refuge the Venezuelan border.