U.S. Says Officials Met With Detained Citizen in Venezuela

U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela interviewed a detained U.S. citizen a week after the South American country arrested a man President Hugo Chavez said may be a “mercenary.”

U.S. consular officials “met with a U.S. citizen being held by Venezuelan authorities,” the Embassy said today in an e-mailed statement, without revealing the person’s identity or more information about the meeting. U.S. diplomats will coordinate with Venezuela and “seek further access when appropriate.”

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

The U.S. embassy did not specify whether the individual officials met with was the same man referred to by Chavez.

During questioning, the man said he was a former marine, Chavez said Aug. 10. 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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