CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez announced Thursday that security forces arrested a U.S. citizen and suspect he is a mercenary who could be involved in an alleged plot to destabilize Venezuela if the opposition's candidate loses the upcoming presidential election.
Chavez said the Hispanic man was detained Aug. 4 while crossing into Venezuela from Colombia. The president said the man was carrying a U.S. passport with entrance and exit stamps from countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya as well as a notebook containing geographical coordinates.
The man's identity was not released. Chavez did not say where he was being interrogated.
An official from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas did not answer repeated telephone calls seeking comment on Chavez's announcement.
"He has all the appearance of a mercenary," Chavez said, speaking during a campaign rally in the coastal state of Vargas. "We are interrogating him."
The man tore up part of the notebook in his possession when he was detained, Chavez said.
Chavez suggested, without offering evidence, the American might have been recruited by government opponents to instigate violent protests if opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles loses the Oct. 7 election.
Chavez has repeatedly vowed to win re-election and continue trying to steer Venezuela toward socialism.
The president has repeatedly claimed the opposition plans to accuse election officials of rigging the vote and refuse to accept the results if he is victorious – an allegation that Capriles and fellow opposition leaders deny.
"A group of the bourgeoisie is preparing to reject the people's triumph, that's very clear," Chavez told the crowd of cheering supporters.
Opposition leaders are going "to try to plunge the country into a political crisis and fill the country with violence," Chavez warned. "I urge everybody to be very alert."
Opposition lawmaker Pedro Pablo Alcantara scoffed at the president's allegations that government foes would attempt to stir up trouble if Chavez is re-elected to a new six-year term.
"We reject his accusations," Alcantara said in a telephone interview after Chavez's speech.
Alcantara accused the government of encouraging violence against its adversaries in the past while arming thuggish groups that have attacked opposition marches and television stations strongly critical of Chavez.
"It's the president who has promoted violence," he said.
Alcantara sidestepped questions on Chavez's claims that the opposition would refuse to accept a victory by him even if it was corroborated by an independent audit of the election results. Alcantara said only that anti-Chavez parties have recruited thousands of volunteers to try to prevent vote rigging by the National Electoral Council.
Many government opponents perceive a pro-Chavez bias in the council, which Alcantara referred to as the government's "elections ministry."
"It's not an impartial arbitrator," he said.
The council's directors deny the institution favors Chavez.