Tuesday May 21, 2013

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela’s opposition on Monday released an audio recording that it said contains a prominent member of the ruling party discussing political strategy with a Cuban intelligence officer.

Opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia said the recording captures a phone conversation between state TV personality Mario Silva, a staunch government ally, and a Cuban identified as Lt. Col. Aramis Palacios.

Venezuela’s opposition has long accused Cuban leaders of wielding influence behind the scenes in guiding government decisions. For its part, the Venezuelan government accuses opposition leader Henrique Capriles of being a puppet of the U.S.

In the recording a man identified as Silva is heard discussing a split in the ruling socialist party between parliament leader Diosdado Cabello and President Nicolas Maduro.

The man says he worries that Cabello, a former army officer, is conspiring against the president, who narrowly defeated Capriles in an April 14 election that the opposition refuses to accept, claiming fraud. For example, the voice says, Maduro’s opponents in the party want to remove Defense Minister Diego Molero.

"Why do they want to remove him, Palacios? To be able to take the armed forces and put pressure on Maduro or to behave as they please or to pull a coup d’etat," the man says.

Silva dismissed the recording on Twitter as a "montage" and suggested U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies were behind it.

Cuban authorities did not immediately respond to a request for reaction or information about Palacios. Cabello also didn’t return calls seeking comment.

In a speech broadcast Monday on state TV, Maduro called for an end to "intrigues" against his administration and the armed forces but didn’t specifically mention the recording.

During his 14-year reign, Chavez forged close ties with Cuba, where he was treated for the cancer that killed him March 5. Venezuela has shipped billions of dollars’ worth of oil to the island on preferential terms.

Capriles had urged his supporters to pay attention to the news conference in which the recording was released.

"Every corrupt and illegitimate government always implodes!" he tweeted later Monday.