U.S. accuses Venezuela officials of drug ties

CARACAS, (Reuters) – The United States yesterday  accused four Venezuelan officials of helping to provide arms to  drug-running Colombian guerrillas, a charge that Venezuela’s  left-wing government dismissed as “abusive.”

The flap is the latest in a long series between OPEC-member  Venezuela and its main oil client, the United States.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued a statement in  Washington saying that American citizens were prohibited from  doing business with the four close allies of President Hugo  Chavez.
They are Amilcar Figueroa, a prominent member of the ruling  Socialist Party; Army General Cliver Alcala; congressman Freddy  Bernal; and intelligence officer Ramon Madriz, who was accused  of providing security for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of  Colombia, or FARC.

“Today’s action exposes four Venezuelan government  officials as key facilitators of arms, security, training and  other assistance in support of the FARC’s operations in  Venezuela,” the statement said.

The Treasury Department “will continue to aggressively  target the FARC’s support structures in Venezuela and  throughout the region.”

SIMMERING
ACCUSATIONS

The Chavez government has long bristled at and denied  accusations from Washington and Bogota that it has been soft on  the FARC, both allowing rebels refuge in Venezuela and  providing some concrete help.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told state  television the United States was “trying to turn into a kind of  world police force, accusing the decent citizens of our country  … We don’t hesitate in calling this abusive.”

Henry Rangel, the head of Venezuela’s military forces, was  put on the Treasury Department’s list of suspects in 2008.

Venezuela, which shares a long, largely unpoliced border  with Colombia, has become a transshipment point for Colombian  cocaine on its way to consumer nations in Africa and Europe.
Chavez had more than one falling out with former Colombian  President Alvaro Uribe over accusations that Venezuela was  doing little to help combat outlawed FARC guerrillas.

But since Uribe was succeeded by Juan Manuel Santos last  year, relations between the neighboring countries have improved  greatly. Santos, while just as conservative as Uribe, is known  for being more diplomatic than his predecessor.

Colombia, backed by billions of dollars in U.S. military  aid, pushed the FARC out of major cities and off the main  highways under eight years of Uribe. Santos served as Uribe’s  defense minister and has carried on many of his policies.

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