Datelined Bradenton (Florida, USA), American Reporter correspondent Joe Shea claims that an American OV-10 spy plane was shot down over northeast Colombia, killing the pilot, and that it may have been deliberately attacked by Venezuelan authorities.  Claiming an exclusive, the American Reporter says some 22,700 Venezuelan soldiers are deployed to guard the nation’s long border with Colombia … “which rebels cross, some say, with Venezuelan government approval.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, US State Department officials told the Associated Press, Tuesday, that the pilot of the downed aircraft was a Costa Rican named Mario Alvarado who was killed when the plane crashed in Norte de Santander Department, where fierce fighting between government and rebel troops is common. The US State Department said the plane was flying low on a routine drug-eradication mission.

The American Reporter says: The OV-10 Bronco … a multi-purpose light attack aircraft commissioned by the US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War for reconnaissance and tactical air support operations … was operated by a secretive Reston, Virginia-based US defense contractor called DynCorp that has been involved in several crashes in Colombia and Peru in recent years. DynCorp has a contract with the US State Department to fumigate coca fields in Colombia as part of the American effort to short-circuit drug trafficking that originates in the region.

DynCorp was acquired by Virginia’s Computer Sciences Corp. in March 2003, and the company was awarded a 5-year $60 million “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity” US Air Force contract today to serve the Air Force’s Information Warfare Center at Lackland AFB in Texas.

Last February, four former US Army Special Forces contractors for DynCorp were shot down as they attempted to save the crew of a helicopter that had been downed by Colombian rebels who hide in the northeast mountainous region of Colombia … and may be crossing the border into Venezuela with official help.

On Sunday, a top aide to a former Venezuelan Finance Minister told the American Reporter that the Chavez government is allowing Colombia’s leftist rebels (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC), who have been carrying on a successful guerilla war largely funded by the drug cartels for a decade, to cross from Colombia into Venezuela and back without opposition. Ironically, the OV-10 was shot down during that conversation.

Relations between Venezuela and Colombia have been strained by border issues, most involving the leftist guerillas of FARC. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said last month that he had asked Venezuela’s Chavez to relay a message to the FARC rebels saying that his government was willing to re-enter peace talks.

The two leaders met on August 21 in Paraguay during inauguration ceremonies of the new Paraguayan President.  “I said to Chavez, President, don’t worry so much about security policy in Colombia … let the FARC know that if they are bored with our security policy, they should come and negotiate peace within five minutes … my government will not repeat the extermination of the Patriotic Union as happened in the past,” Colombia’s President told reporters. USDefense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a 20-hour visit to Bogota (Colombia) on August 19 aimed at backing Colombia’s war against drug traffickers and cocaine cartels, and remarked that the drug war there may “end up having a military solution as well as a political solution.”

But, while the former cabinet minister’s aide said border crossings were permitted, he doubted that Chavez had ordered the downing of the US spy plane on Sunday. But that possibility is raised because US-backed forces have made an exceptional effort to recover eight tourists reportedly captured by rebels in the mountainous coastal region known as Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Rebels deny that they have the hostages, while admitting that the FARC is holding three American defense contractors captured in February. But US-controlled forces have crossed the Venezuelan border looking for the hostages, Venezuela claims.

A flight of 15 US-owned Black Hawk helicopters invaded Venezuelan airspace from the direction of northeast Colombia on September 12 in search of the hostages, according to the official state news agency VENPRES. A few days later, Venezuelan intelligence services also charged that a plane that was supposed to carry Venezuela’s President to a speech at the United Nations was targeted for destruction by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, according to sources in Venezuela’s Military Intelligence Directorate quoted by the online VHeadline.com website on September 21.

The VHeadline.com report by editor Roy Carson (a former South American Bureau Chief for The American Reporter) said Venezuelan officials had “overwhelming evidence” that US authorities planned an attack on a plane carrying Chavez to New York for a planned address to the UN next week. The flight and the speech were cancelled.

Meanwhile, discontent with the Chavez regime, the object of an April 11, 2002 “people power” coup that was quickly put down by Chavez forces, is growing.  In the latest incident, a man was arrested Sunday for bombing a military barracks while Chavez was at work in the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas immediately across the broad Avenida Urdaneta from the barracks. The Venezuelan President was unharmed and the suspected bomber was captured after a fierce gun battle between more than 60 police backed by National Guardsmen and dozens of local police officers and other men reportedly tied to the 2002 coup.

Until now, the latest incident in the air war over South America has been kept to a minimum. News that the plane was shot down, rather than crashed, was only released Monday, and the pilot was not immediately identified.