VENEZUELA: Trujillo's Murder Plot

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Dominican Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo has done many harsh acts and some stupid ones in his 30 years in power. But perhaps none has ever matched the deed he was accused of last week. The Organization of American States listened to detailed evidence that Trujillo personally plotted last month's nearly successful assassination attempt against Venezuela's President Rómulo Betancourt. The OAS found the case persuasive enough to vote 19 to 0 (with the Dominicans and the Venezuelans abstaining) to judge the evidence and act on it.

Most of the evidence marshaled by Venezuela came from testimony of captured plotters. As they told it, a C46 cargo plane took off June 17 from Caracas' Maiquetia airport carrying four passengers, including a self-styled Venezuelan general named Juan Manuel Sanoja. As the plane neared Ciudad Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Sanoja instructed the pilot to radio the message: "Advise the Generalissimo that General Sanoja is aboard plane. Also advise Colonel Abbes Garcia."

"You may land at San Isidro Military Base," came the answer. The plane passengers were met by Dominican officials in Mercedes Benz limousines and driven to a house in Ciudad Trujillo. There they were shortly joined by Colonel John Abbes Garcia, 36, Trujillo's chief intelligence agent and hatchetman.

Abbes Garcia told them: "I have an apparatus that might interest you." He produced an innocent-looking, brown overnight case covered with imitation alligator skin. Inside was a small radio transmitter designed to operate a receiver that could detonate dynamite. At this point, the testimony continued, a car drove up to the house, and in strutted Trujillo himself. He asked about Venezuela's political atmosphere and declared that "the enemy must be hit hard." For Trujillo, Betancourt is "the enemy," and Betancourt, in turn, obsessively hates Trujillo. "If we don't do it to him," Trujillo told Sanoja & Co., "he will do it to us."

Next day Abbes Garcia demonstrated how the detonator worked by blowing up two cars. Then Sanoja and his fellow recruits flew back to Venezuela.

On the morning of June 24, two of the plotters parked a green 1954 Oldsmobile on the road Betancourt would take to at tend the Venezuelan Armed Forces Day ceremony. They placed two green suitcases, loaded with 60 lbs. of ammonium-nitrate dynamite and a radio receiver, in the trunk, hooked up the detonating receiver. When Betancourt's car passed, one of the plotters, standing 200 yards away, pressed a button inside the brown overnight case and the Olds exploded.

But Abbes Garcia had misled the Venezuelans on how much explosive was needed. Though three others were killed, Betancourt survived with minor burns. And enough of the Olds was left to make it easily traceable. The owner was quickly found, and he spilled the story. Venezuelan cops had no trouble finding the abandoned detonating device. The lesson seemed to be that any political figure who displeases Trujillo can realistically fear that the dictator will try to murder him.