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Stop Press! Fair and evenhand reporting on the Antonini Wilson suitcase trial English

"Wilson! Wilsoooooon!"

Err...hate to say it, blogpeople, but full kudos to Benedict Mander for today's report in the London FT about the suitcase trial. However, poor Mander will now be accused of blatant communism because he dared put forward both sides of the argument about what's going on at the Miami trial.

Note to all other media services in LatAm: Look how easy it is to actually do a bit of fair reporting on Venezuela issues. 1) Write 517 words, 2) submit copy, 3) take the rest of the day and hit the bars for happy-hour G&Ts. What -ho!

But seriously, this is good work from Mander. I don't want political agendas stuffed down my throat, I want the kind of thing written below the line here (i.e. facts, and both sides of the story). Kudos to you, Blighty.


Court case throws up tales of intrigue

By Benedict Mander in Caracas

Published: September 26 2008 18:46 | Last updated: September 26 2008 18:46

While President Hugo Chávez was touring Cuba, China and Russia this week with great fanfare, a court in Miami was hearing about what the prosecution claims was a more covert Venezuelan diplomatic mission that spectacularly backfired.

Witnesses have been providing evidence to support a tale of intrigue that they say involves secret agents, hush money, coercion and even death threats, that has fuelled speculation of corruption at the highest levels of the Venezuelan government.

Both Mr Chávez – who is directly implicated in the case – and Ms Fernández, have denounced the trial as “garbage”, and a transparent attempt by the US at slurring the reputations of leftwing governments emerging in Latin America.

It has further undermined already shaky relations between Venezuela and the US to deteriorate yet further, which plumbed new depths earlier this month when Mr Chávez banished the US ambassador in Caracas. The US was also accused of having links to an alleged coup attempt that was uncovered the very same week.

After starting to collaborate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Miami, Mr Antonini was visited by men – allegedly on behalf of the Venezuelan government – who were attempting to keep him quiet, for which Mr Antonini demanded $2m in an FBI-penned letter addressed directly to Mr Chávez. But their conversations were secretly recorded with wiretaps, leading to the arrest of the men visiting Mr Antonini, for acting as unauthorised agents of a foreign government. All but one, Franklin Duran, pleaded guilty; he is the man now on trial in Miami.

Many analysts agree that the case, and the furore surrounding it, is highly politicised. “This case smells to high heaven,” says Nikolas Kozloff, the author of a new book on leftwing movements in Latin America. He points out that the key witness, Mr Antonini, who has been linked to radical sectors of the Venezuelan opposition that tried to overthrow Mr Chávez in a 2002 coup with tacit US support, “raises eyebrows”.

“The Chávez government has an axe to grind and we should be circumspect about its claims that the US has somehow tried to set up Venezuela,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said Washington might also have ulterior, geopolitical motives: by attempting to embarrass Mr Chávez it could be aiming to limit his influence in the region.

For example, in one of the taped conversations with Mr Antonini, it is claimed that Mr Chávez – who has also been accused of using his plentiful petrodollars to fund political allies in countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Mexico, as well as Colombian Marxist guerrillas – may also have paid governments in return for their support in his failed attempt to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2006.