Mystery patient stirs rumors in Venezuela

Por Venezuela Real - 12 de Marzo, 2008, 18:14, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Miami Herald
March 12, 2008

Call him Patient X.

The Venezuelan military is investigating the identity of a man who showed up Sunday at a medical clinic near the Colombian border with fake names, a phony ID and a bullet wound to the jaw. National Guard troops surrounded the clinic because they believed the man was a leftist Colombian rebel or right-wing paramilitary fighter, the Venezuelan military said.

But when the media got wind of the heavy military presence at the La Colonia clinic in the city of Rubio, rumors spread that the injured man was top FARC leader Joaquín Gómez.

Gómez, who has a $2.5 million U.S. bounty on his head, replaced Raúl Reyes last week on the seven-member FARC secretariat after Reyes died in a Colombian attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador.

However, Venezuelan television footage showed that the patient is much darker-skinned than Gómez.

''This is a citizen who is receiving medical care,'' Gen. Juan Carlos Hidalgo told Venezuela's state news channel, VTV. ``You can see he does not correspond with the person . . . the media has practically made a scandal out of. An investigation is under way to determine who this individual really is.''

His fingerprints were sent to Colombia, VTV reported.

Had it been Gómez, it would have been the FARC's third critical setback in less than two weeks. Reyes' death was a huge blow, and it was followed days later by the death of secretariat member Iván Ríos, killed by his bodyguard.

Neighbors around the hospital told Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper that there were so many soldiers around since Sunday that it looked like the hospital was under ``commando attack.''

The Colombian Defense Ministry told The Miami Herald that authorities in Colombia have no knowledge of the matter. Gómez, who turns 61 next week, ran the FARC's Southern Bloc, its historic stronghold -- on the opposite end of Colombia from the border where the La Colonia clinic is located.

Miami Herald correspondent Tyler Bridges contributed to this report.


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