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August 9, 2005 - Financial Times (UK)

(Venezuela) Chavez Abandons Co-Operation With US Over Drugs

By Andy Webb-Vidal

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Venezuela has severed ties with the US counter-drugs agency after accusing it of spying, a move that the US on Monday described as the final break in weakening security co-operation between the two governments.

President Hugo Chavez, who often claims Washington is conspiring to overthrow or assassinate him, said on Sunday he had suspended agreements with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The DEA operates in most countries of Latin America, except Cuba, and especially in drugs-producing countries in the Andean region and in transit countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

In recent years Venezuela has become a corridor through which about a third of the cocaine from neighbouring Colombia is smuggled.

DEA agents usually operate in conjunction with local authorities, and in the case of Venezuela with the National Guard, a militarised police force charged with upholding border and airport security.

But Mr Chavez claimed the DEA was carrying out a different task.

"It turns out that the DEA was using the fight against drugs trafficking as a cover to undertake intelligence work in Venezuela against the government, even to support drugs trafficking," Mr Chavez claimed.

Officers from the DEA often co-opt small-time dealers with the aim of capturing big-time traffickers. The method, called "controlled delivery" has on occasion been abused by corrupt DEA agents.

US officials have in the past also alleged that some National Guard officers are themselves involved in drugs trafficking.

Nevertheless, the suspension of the anti-drugs effort with Venezuela is a blow to already fading security co-operation with the US.

"Counter-narcotics was the one area where we were continuing to see co-operation with the Venezuelans," said a US defence official dealing with Latin America.

"It appears that now Chavez is cutting even this off. [It's] one more signal of wanting to cut all ties to the US."

In April, Mr Chavez terminated joint military operations with the US and ended a joint military officer training agreement.

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