Venezuelan government says recording proves opposition plots
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's government released a recording on Wednesday of a well-known opposition lawmaker apparently criticizing the head of the opposition coalition and accusing him of meeting U.S. officials to provoke a crisis in the OPEC nation.
In the latest of a string of secretly-made recordings that have roiled politics in the South American country in recent months, the new tape was of female legislator Maria Corina Machado talking to a local academic.
Machado admitted it was her voice on the tape, but said a private conversation had been illegally obtained and edited to give a false impression.
"They are taking a conversation of more than two hours, and taking it out of context, editing different phrases to change the context," she told a news conference. "They are wrong, if they think they are going to blackmail us with illegal acts like these."
In the recording, Machado mentioned Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, head of the opposition coalition, and appeared to be discussing the opposition's narrow loss to Nicolas Maduro in April's presidential election.
"Aveledo has said to the (U.S.) State Department that the only way out of this is to provoke or to accentuate a crisis, a coup d'etat ... or a process of tightening," said Machado.
Maduro, who replaced late socialist leader Hugo Chavez after his death from cancer, constantly accuses the opposition of having a hidden, violent and pro-U.S. agenda including assassination and coup plots against him.
Opposition leaders, who still refuse to recognize Maduro as president, say that is a smokescreen to hide his own incompetence and illegitimacy, as well as Venezuela's myriad economic and social problems.
Presenting the tape to reporters, Jorge Rodriguez, a senior official from the ruling Socialist Party, said the recording had been passed to the government by an opposition activist.
"We are obliged to show evidence today that violates the constitution in a terrifying way," said Rodriguez, who was flanked at the news conference by Information Minister Ernesto Villegas.
They did not say when the tape was made and Machado did not say when the conversation was held.
In the recording, Machado was heard criticizing the opposition's strategy after the April 14 vote, and said a decision by their candidate Henrique Capriles to call off street protests over the results had sent a "terrible signal."
The new tape surfaced just weeks after the opposition released a recording of their own in which a man identified as a powerful state TV commentator accused a Socialist Party heavyweight of plotting against Maduro, apparently to a Cuban intelligence officer.
Other opposition lawmakers, retired military officers, journalists, and even Capriles' father have previously appeared in secret recordings aired by the government, which has accused them of committing crimes or of conspiring against the state.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Christopher Wilson)