Venezuela president blames Colombian paramilitaries for murder of lawmaker

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is blaming shadowy forces and Colombian paramilitary gangs for the Wednesday night murder of a ruling-party lawmaker and his wife.

“I have no doubt that it was paramilitaries from Colombia who provided the advice on the methods of this killing,” Maduro said late Thursday. He also promised to find the “intellectual authors” of the crime.

Serra, a 27-year-old member of the National Assembly and a rising star in the PSUV party, and his wife, María Herrera, were stabbed to death in their home late Wednesday. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but authorities said this assassination was not the result of common crime or a botched robbery.

Maduro has often accused the opposition of working in tandem with factions in Colombia to try to destabilize his socialist administration.

Last month, Colombia deported two Venezuelan activists who were allegedly plotting bomb attacks and protests in the neighboring country. Since then, Venezuela’s state-run media has been showing videos of one of the detainees, Lorent Saleh, talking about purchasing weapons and explosives and “neutralizing” government activists.

Maduro cited that case as proof of a Colombian connection in Serra’s murder.

Former Colombian President and the Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNSAUR) Ernesto Samper also bolstered the theory.

He told El Tiempo newspaper that Serra had been investigating Saleh’s case and he speculated that that’s why the lawmaker was targeted.

“This is very serious because it confirms that those people [paramilitaries] might be entering Venezuela,” he told the newspaper.

Colombia’s paramilitary groups grew to prominence in the 1990s but began demobilizing under the government’s 2003 “Justice and Peace.”

However, many paramilitary combatants have formed new criminal syndicates. While the government calls these groups “Bacrim,“ short for criminal gangs, many refer to them as paramilitaries, since they maintain the same tactics, strategies and territorial control.

Before his death in 2013, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez often warned that Colombian paramilitary groups were trying to topple his administration.