US REJECTS DRUG ESPIONAGE CLAIM
THE United States has rejected charges by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that US drug agents were spying on his country and accused Caracas of flagging cooperation in the fight against narcotics trafficking.
"The accusations that somehow the (US) Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in espionage are baseless," said Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli. "There's no substance or justification for them."
Mr Ereli also described as "regrettable" Mr Chavez's announcement that Venezuela was going to end cooperation with the DEA and said "failure to cooperate only benefits narco-traffickers."
Mr Chavez, a frequent critic of the US government, said that "the DEA has used the pretext of fighting drug trafficking ... to spy on Venezuela's government."
His comments came after Washington stepped up its criticism of Venezuela in recent weeks, accusing it of actively funding efforts to destabilise its Latin American neighbors.
Mr Ereli said Mr Chavez's remarks were meant to deflect attention from what he called "a steady deterioration in the government of Venezuela's commitment" to fighting narcotics trafficking in recent months.
"I think it's pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself or not what they state is the problem," the US spokesman said.
"The motivation is an effort to detract from the government's increasingly deficient record of cooperation."