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Venezuela Authorizes U.S. Meeting With ‘Mercenary,’ Chavez Says

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country will allow the U.S. to “have contact” with a American citizen taken into custody by security forces who is suspected of being a mercenary.

The communication will take place today after the U.S. requested a meeting, Chavez said according to an e-mailed government statement yesterday. The Venezuelan leader didn’t say whether U.S. officials would meet with the man in person.

“We’re going to cooperate and hopefully they will cooperate with us,” the statement cites Chavez as saying. “We’ve received a positive signal, they’ve said they want to cooperate.”

Chavez said Aug. 9 that Venezuela captured a U.S. citizen attempting to enter the South American country illegally from Colombia. The man of Hispanic origin had passport stamps showing he’d visited Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and tore up a notebook containing coordinates while being arrested, Chavez said.

During questioning, the man said he was a former marine, Chavez said a day later. Venezuelan officials contacted the State Department directly about the case, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Aug. 13.

Chavez, who faces elections on Oct. 7 and wants to extend his 13 years in power with another six-year term, often points to an attempted coup in 2002 as evidence that the U.S. and his domestic opponents are planning to overthrow him. The self-declared socialist has said that the opposition may react violently to losing the elections and that the arrest “obliges us to activate all the alarms.”

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