President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday alleged that U.S. intelligence agencies were behind a purported assassination plot that prevented him from visiting El Salvador.
Chavez had planned to attend the inauguration of leftist President Mauricio Funes in the Central American nation on Monday, but said he canceled his trip due to the alleged plot.
"I don't doubt that the intelligence organizations of the United States are behind this," Chavez said, accusing them of plotting with Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles to murder him.
He said Venezuelan intelligence services have "very precise information" that they were planning to launch rockets at the Cubana de Aviacion plane he was going to travel in.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas couldn't immediately be reached for comment. The U.S. State Department has denied similar accusations by Chavez in the past.
Venezuela has asked the U.S. to extradite Posada, a former CIA operative and opponent of former Cuban president Fidel Castro who is accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane off Barbados that killed 73 people on board. The 81-year-old Posada is accused of plotting the bombing while living in Venezuela but denies involvement.
Chavez has previously accused the U.S. of plotting to overthrow him or invade Venezuela, but Tuesday was the first time he has made such accusations since warmly greeting President Barack Obama at an April summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
"I'm not accusing Obama," he said. "I think Obama has good intentions, but beyond Obama there's an empire — the CIA and all its tentacles: Terrorists and paramilitaries."
Chavez also repeated a demand for the U.S. to turn over Posada to stand trial in Venezuela, saying: "Send us that murderer."
Posada was arrested on immigration-fraud charges in Miami in 2005, and held at an immigration jail in El Paso, Texas.
An immigration judge in El Paso ordered that Posada should be deported in 2005, but said the ailing militant could not be sent to Cuba or Venezuela because of fears he could be tortured.
Posada has been freed on bond, living with his family in Florida, since 2007.
Private Banks Threatened
Also on Tuesday, Chavez threatened to sanction private banks that fail to collaborate with his government's regulations as it moves toward a socialist economy.
Chavez says that banks are designed to intervene in the financial system and provide credit to people buying houses or producing food, rather than generating massive earnings for their owners.
"If private Venezuelan banks don't follow the path, comply with the constitution and the laws, they'll have to be sanctioned," Chavez said. "The only way this government and this socialist project will accept private banks is if they fulfill their duty to intermediate, and join the government to promote economic development."
Chavez's government has stepped up its role in the banking sector since it reached an agreement with Spain's Santander to purchase its local unit, Banco de Venezuela, last month. Once it formally assumes control of the bank on July 3, the government will become the nation's top financial player.
"We will have more economic power," Chavez said of the nationalization on Tuesday.
This is not the first time Chavez has threatened to go after banks that fail to meet state regulations. In January 2008, he threatened to "seize" private banks that neglected laws requiring them to set aside nearly a third of all loans for agriculture, mortgages and small businesses at favorable rates.
He has threatened to nationalize commercial banks before, but has not followed through on most of those threats.