Murder of Danilo Anderson
The Murder of Danilo Anderson took place on 18 November 2004, in Caracas, Venezuela. Danilo Baltasar Anderson (born 29 October 1966) was a Venezuelan environmental state prosecutor investigating more than 400 people accused of crimes against the state and Venezuelan people in the failed 2002 coup d'état attempt. Anderson, 38, was assassinated in Urbanización Los Chaguaramos in Caracas, while driving home from the college where he was taking postgraduate classes. He was killed when a C-4 plastic explosive device placed on the frame under the driver's seat on his Toyota SUV was detonated, apparently by remote control. Witnesses say they heard two loud explosions and saw the vehicle, already in flames, crash against the front of a nearby building. In 2005 several people were convicted of masterminding the assassination.
Anderson was born in Caracas, and graduated in law from Central University of Venezuela in 1995, specializing later in criminology and environmental law. He worked as a lawyer for several firms, and was a general tax inspector between 1993 and 2000. He was the first official to bring a case for environmental offenses in Caracas. According to El Nacional (an anti-Chavez publication), Anderson described himself as a radical leftist. His murder shocked Venezuelan opinion across the political spectrum.
Following the failure of the coup in April 2002, leaders of the political movements opposed to President Chávez turned to economic means to achieve their political goals. For two months from early December 2002 they organized the Venezuelan general strike of 2002-2003, dominated by the near-closure of Venezuelan state oil company PdVSA as management locked out staff and a key oil transport route was blocked. The strike ultimately failed in its attempt to topple the government, but caused acute economic problems, with GDP falling by a quarter in early 2003, and deepened the deeply conflictive political situation resulting from the April coup.
Following the collapse of the strike, opposition politicians then focused on constitutional efforts to seek the ouster of President Chávez, taking advantage of the 1999 Constitution's provision of a recall referendum. Widespread international attention focused on the run-up to the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004 in August 2004. President Chávez won the vote by a substantial majority with 59% of the total.
Throughout 2004 a few extremists in the Venezuelan opposition both inside and outside the country called for the use of violence to overthrow the government. In May 2004 Venezuelan security forces caught a group of over one hundred Colombians dressed in military uniforms on a bus in the El Hatillo Municipality, Miranda part of Caracas. They had been based at a farm belonging to Roberto Alonso, a Cuban based in Miami. Allegedly, the group had been training to carry out attacks on government targets.
On July 25, 2004, from his exile in Miami, former President Carlos Andrés Pérez declared "I am working to overthrow Chávez. Violence will allow us to take him out. Chávez must die like a dog." to the Venezuelan daily El Nacional. Similarly, on October 25, 2004, famous Venezuelan TV actor Orlando Urdaneta called on Miami television for the assassination of President Chávez.
Likewise, various opposition extremist groups such as Militares Democráticos and Frente Institucional Militar issued virulent calls on their web sites for the assassination of prominent members of the Venezuelan authorities. Danilo Anderson was clearly a vulnerable target given his leading role in the investigation of prominent leaders of the coup in April 2002. He was assassinated on 18 November 2004.
Following the assassination, the Venezuelan authorities mounted a high-level investigation which within several days identified ex-police agents Otoniel and Rolando Guevara as involved in the plot. They were arrested on 26 November 2004 and charged with homicide. The same day the Guevara brothers were arrested two other suspects in the case, lawyer Antonio Lopez Castillo and, another former police agent, Juan Carlos Sanchez, were shot dead by investigating officers in separate incidents; both were said to have opened fire on the police. A police search of the home of Lopez Castillo revealed a small arsenal of weapons, ammunition and military equipment.
Subsequently, the investigation widened in search of the organizers and planners of the murder. By August 2005 the Venezuelan authorities had detained Giovani José Vásquez De Armas, a self-confessed former member of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the Colombian right-wing paramilitary organization. In sworn testimony given on August 29, 2005, Vásquez de Armas declared that he had participated in two meetings to plan attacks against members of the Venezuelan government. He alleged that participants in the second meeting decided to target Danilo Anderson. After that second meeting Vásquez de Armas said he collected 12kg of C4 plastic explosive in Panama and transported it to Venezuela. On the basis of his testimony, warrants were issued for the arrest of leading journalist Patricia Poleo, banker Nelson Mezerhane, retired general Eugenio Áñez Núñez and Salvador Romaní, as the "intellectual authors" of the assassination. Mezzerane, Áñez and Romaní turned themselves in and were granted bail in December 2005. Poleo did not present herself to the authorities; she was interviewed on a TV show in Peru in January 2006.
The investigation into who masterminded Anderson's murder became one of the most controversial topics in Venezuelan politics. Investigative journalists from media opposed to the government reported a number of apparent irregularities in the investigation. There were reports that friends of Anderson may have operated an extortion racket aimed at opposition figures being investigated by Anderson in relation to the 2002 coup. Venezuelan Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez was accused by government opponents of turning the investigation of Anderson's murder into a political issue, using the case to harass government opponents.
On December 20, 2005, Otoniel and Rolando Guevara were sentenced to 27 years and 9 months imprisonment each, while their brother Juan Bautista was sentenced to the maximum 30 years.
Alleged investigation flaws
In 2006 the credibility of the key prosecution witness Vásquez De Armas came into question after it was shown he had a criminal record for identity fraud in his native Colombia and he was not a psychiatrist as he had pledged to be. Documentation of uncertain provenance has been produced apparently showing that Vasquez de Armas was serving jail time in Santa Marta, Colombia, at the time he claims to have witnessed the planning of Anderson's murder by leading opposition figures. Venezuela's Attorney General moved to control press reporting on Vasquez de Armas while the case was sub-judice. The ban on discussing the personal life and alleged unreliability of Vásquez was lifted in August, 2006.
- BBC, 13 August 2004, Analysis: Chavez at eye of storm
- Vheadline.com, 19 November 2004, US embassy should clarify position on rebel's televised assassination threat
- Venezuelanalysis.com, 28 November 2004, Two More Arrests and one More Death in the Case of Venezuelan Prosecutor's Assassination
- BBC, 26 November 2004 Arrests over Venezuelan killing
- Venezuelanalysis.com, 9 November 2005, FBI and CIA identified as helping Plan Venezuelan Prosecutor's Murder
- El Universal, 12 November 2005, Four people accused of masterminding the murder of public prosecutor Danilo Anderson
- El Universal, 21 December 2005, Mezerhane, Añez and Romaní released pending trial
- El Universal, 6 January 2005, PROSECUTOR ANDERSON'S FRIENDS UNDER INVESTIGATION; El Universal, 10 March 2005, Attorney General Office keeps on investigating Anderson case
- El Universal, 9 November 2005, ATTORNEY GENERAL ACCUSED OF USING ANDERSON'S CASE TO CHASE DISSIDENTS
- El Universal, 21 December 2005, Perpetrators of Anderson murder convicted to up to 30 years in jail
- (Spanish) El Universal, 31 March 2006, VERIFICAN DATOS SOBRE GIOVANNI VÁSQUEZ
- El Universal, 15 February 2006, Media ban around Anderson case ratified
- (Spanish) El Universal, 19 January 2006, FISCALÍA SOLICITA PROHIBIR CRÍTICAS A GIOVANNI VÁSQUEZ
- El Universal, 14 August 2006, BAN ON DISCLOSING THE PERSONAL LIFE OF KEY WITNESS NULL AND VOID