Venezuela's vice president has compared U.S. counter-narcotics agents in his country to an occupation force, and contested the right of the United States to judge Venezuela's cooperation in combating illegal narcotics. The comments come several weeks after Venezuela suspended bilateral anti-drug efforts with the United States.
U.S. law dictates that, on September 15, the Bush administration must either certify - or decertify - Venezuela as a cooperating partner in the war on drugs. Should the government of President Hugo Chavez be decertified, most U.S. assistance to the country would be put on hold, and the United States would be obligated to vote against funding for Venezuela provided by an assortment of international lending institutions.
In an interview with VOA, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said the United States has no right to pass such judgment.
"We reject, not only in the case of the United States, but any country that has a process to certify or decertify another nation," said Mr. Rangel. "That is something we do not accept on principle."
Venezuela is considered a major transit point for drugs originating in Colombia and elsewhere in South America.
Mr. Rangel says President Chavez suspended bilateral anti-narcotics efforts to protest the actions of the U.S. Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA)in his country, but that he hopes the program can be restarted under different terms between the two countries
"Why does this disagreement surface with the United States? Because they [U.S. officials] allow the DEA to act like a type of occupation force - detaining and interrogating Venezuelans," he said. "We have told the United States that we want to have an accord [for combating narcotics] - but one that is transparent, with equal conditions [for both nations]. Venezuela would never be permitted to have its anti-narcotics agents operating within the United States, and we would never ask for it. But we want the DEA to act in accordance with Venezuelan law. We are working to formulate a new accord on those terms."
U.S. officials deny any policy that allows DEA agents to contravene the domestic laws of the nations in which they operate.
The U.S. ambassador in Caracas, William Brownfield, is making no predictions as to whether Venezuela will be certified or not.
"We will see. The only thing I can say for sure is that, in accordance with the law of the United States, on September 15 the President of the United States will have to make a decision: to certify, or not," said Mr. Brownfield. "And without a doubt we [the United States] will take into account all the public statements and the actions of the Venezuelan government over the last six or seven weeks."
Those six or seven weeks cover date last month when Venezuela suspended anti-narcotics cooperation. Mr. Brownfield added that interruptions in anti-narcotics cooperation can only benefit drug traffickers and criminals.
Aside from the drug issue, Venezuela has terminated some bilateral military programs and threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States. Vice President Rangel says President Chavez aims not only to redefine ties between Caracas and Washington, but to bring about a reorientation of relations between the United States and Latin America as a whole.
"These relations have been profoundly unjust, like relations between a shark and a sardine. And they have to change," added Mr. Rangel "We belong to a multi-polar world. We reject hegemony and privileges for any country in the world, and we believe in a just and democratic international order."
Barring any unforeseen absences, President Bush and President Chavez will meet face-to-face during the Summit of the Americas, to be held in Argentina in November.