DORAL, Fla. - Enrique Franceschi, the opposition mayor of the coastal city of Arismendi Rio Caribe, was stabbed to death in his home, in what the opposition is calling a clear example of the rampant violence that grips the country.
"Franceschi's lifeless body was found during the morning hours on Sunday, July 20, with multiple wounds caused by a knife, inside his home located in Rio Caribe," the prosecutor's office said.
The 34-year-old Franceschi, the one of the youngest mayors in the opposition alliance Mesa de Unidad Democratica, or MUD, had been mayor of Arismendi, a town of about 35,000 in the northeastern state of Sucre, since December 2011.
Investigators guarding the mayor's home refused to tell journalists about any of the theories being discussed regarding possible motives for the murder.
"The Association of Mayors for Venezuela deeply regrets the murder of our colleague Enrique Franceschi, mayor of the municipality Arismendi (Río Caribe) Sucre State, distinguished for his long career as a public servant and for his commitment to democratic struggles," said the association in a statement.
"This leader joins the innumerable list of Venezuelans who have lost their lives as a result of the violence that our country suffers," the statement added.
U.S. continues funding political groups in Venezuela despite ban
Millions of dollars flow every year from the U.S. government to Venezuelan groups critical of that country's socialist government, despite attempts from the Venezuelan government to ban these funds, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
The State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-funded nonprofit organization known as NED, together budgeted about $7.6 million to support Venezuelan groups in 2013, and the US government is considering tripling that amount, according to public documents reviewed by AP.
That was 15 percent more than they collectively authorized in 2009, before a 2010 ban on foreign donations was enacted, subjecting violators to fines of as much as twice all foreign money received. Foreigners in Venezuela who provide such aid can be deported.
However, the ban has proven politically impossible to enforce. Venezuela, which itself provides aid around the region, even in the U.S., would open itself to charges of hypocrisy if it took the extreme step of shutting down local organizations for taking foreign assistance.
For eight years, the Chavez administration provided families in 25 U.S. states with heating oil during the cold winter months, according to Citgo Corp., an American subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company.
The NED now omits Venezuelan recipients' names from its annual reports, and the State Department since 2010 has not publicly named the Venezuelan partners which receive its pro-democracy funds, because of an "atmosphere of severe intimidation, including threats of physical violence, hate campaigns on state-controlled media, and legal reprisals."
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