May 8, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela --
Venezuela on Monday said it will not allow U.S. agents to carry out counter-drug operations in the country, accusing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of being a "new cartel" that aids traffickers.
Justice Minister Pedro Carreño said the South American nation suspended cooperation with the agency in 2005 after determining that "they were moving a large amount of drugs." President Hugo Chavez at the time also accused the DEA of spying.
"The United States with its DEA monopolizes the shipping of drugs like a cartel," Carrenñ told reporters. "We determined that we were evidently in the presence of a new cartel." He did not elaborate.
Spokesman Brian Penn said the U.S. Embassy categorically denies the accusation and called the DEA "the leading agency combatting drug trafficking around the world."
"We'd like to cooperate with Venezuela to not only increase the number of seizures in Venezuela but also to help them to prosecute narcotraffickers who are operating in Venezuelan territory. We think sharing of information can aid Venezuela in this," Penn said.
Washington has repeatedly accused Venezuela of not cooperating in counter-drug efforts and says cocaine shipments are increasingly passing through the country from neighboring Colombia.
U.S. officials say about 10 DEA agents have remained in Venezuela working with law enforcement contacts even after the Chavez government suspended formal cooperation
Carreño was responding to comments by John Walters, the U.S. director of National Drug Control Policy, who told the Colombian magazine Semana in an interview published last week: "Chavez has refused to cooperate. It's a shame. Venezuela is gaining in importance for the drug traffickers."
Carreño said Venezuela is making important strides in fighting drug trafficking.
"The Venezuelan government doesn't accept blackmail," Carreño said. Security agencies are willing to follow up on any information provided to track down traffickers, he added, but "what we will not permit them to do is carry out operations in our territory."