U.S. SAYS VENEZUELA NO LONGER ALLY IN WAR ON DRUGS
Bush Stops Short of Cutting Aid to the Nation Because Money Helps Fund Democracy Efforts
WASHINGTON - President Bush has taken Venezuela off his list of allies in the war on drugs, saying that President Hugo Chavez spurned anti-drug cooperation with U.S. officials and fired its effective law enforcement officers.
But the White House waived the cuts in U.S. foreign aid usually attached to the "decertification" so that it can continue to support pro-democracy groups in Venezuela that oppose the leftist Chavez.
Bush's decision is expected to sharply exacerbate already bitter U.S.-Venezuelan relations roiled by Washington's charges that Chavez is promoting subversion around the hemisphere and the Venezuelan president's allegations that Bush is out to kill him.
Venezuela provides 12 to 15 percent of U.S. oil imports.
The U.S. State Department's No. 3 official, Nicholas Burns, announced the Bush administration decision Thursday in New York City about the time Chavez was arriving there for a U.N. summit gathering.
Accompanying Burns, U.S. drug czar John Walters said that in the past Venezuelan cooperation on drugs was "quite successful" but that Chavez now "no longer wants a productive relationship."
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said of the annual certification process required by U.S. law, "We reject it. ... it's infantile."
The White House said Venezuela had "failed demonstrably" to stem the flow through its territory of 150 tons of cocaine and growing amounts of heroin, mostly from Colombia.
Venezuela's chief narcotics prosecutor, national counter-narcotics director and head of the financial intelligence unit "were fired and replaced with Chavez loyalists who lack the necessary training," the statement added.
Last month, Chavez ordered his government officials to stop cooperating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, accusing it of espionage and drug trafficking. U.S. officials denied the charges, and Venezuelan investigators continued to work with the DEA.
The waiver of the decertification sanctions will allow the U.S.
government to support democratic institutions there and "strengthen Venezuela's political party system," the White House said.
At the U.N., Chavez denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq on and told world leaders they should consider moving the U.N. headquarters out of the United States because of it, noting that some have suggested Jerusalem as a new home.
World leaders had been asked to speak for five minutes, and when Chavez kept talking, the presiding diplomat passed him a note that his time was up. Chavez threw it on the floor and said if Bush could speak for 20 minutes at Wednesday's opening session, so could he.