Venezuelan official accuses U.S. of aiding drug trafficking, calls DEA a 'new cartel'

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 Carreno 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," Carreno told reporters. "We determined that we were evidently in the presence of a new cartel." He did not elaborate.

U.S. Embassy officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but 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

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Carreno 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."

Carreno said Venezuela is making important strides in fighting drug trafficking, while Washington is using the issue for political ends.

"The Venezuelan government doesn't accept blackmail," Carreno 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."

Carreno alleged that Washington hopes to use cooperation agreements as an excuse to eventually establish "military bases" in the country. He did not elaborate.
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