Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel struck back rhetorically against US drug czar John Walters on October 10 after Walters, in a Washington speech earlier last week, accused the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez of lending support to not only the leftist FARC guerrillas of neighboring Colombia but also Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. In the speech delivered before the conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies, Walters praised Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's tough stance against both rebels and the coca farmers as a model for Latin America, and criticized other countries for not following Uribe's lead.
Walters singled out Venezuela, whose populist president had clashed frequently with Washington, for special criticism. "As has been reported in the press," said Walters, "the Venezuelan government is granting refuge to terrorist groups like those obviously involved in the drug traffic" and the Venezuelan government is "probably" providing them arms and "other sorts of support." It may also be aiding Islamic radicals, Walters threw in for good measure. While Venezuela had maintained "reasonable collaboration in some respects" with the DEA, Walters said, "the fundamental issue" is Venezuela's support of Colombian rebel groups. It's worrying for the people of the region, and it is worrying for the United States."
"This is a lie, a calumny, a total infamy," retorted Rangel at a Caracas press conference denouncing Walters' charges. "I can say that I am worried about what happens in the United States about drugs. The world's leading producer of marijuana is the United States, the world's leading drug consumer is the United States, the first country to use the financial system to recycle drug profits is the United States," Rangel said. "I am very worried about this."
For Rangel, the pressure from Walters is part and parcel of a larger effort by the Bush administration to destabilize the Chavez government. The role of the US in the attempted coup against Chavez in April 2002 continues to be murky, with many Venezuelans seeing the sinister hand of the CIA at work. Rangel told reporters the agency is still trying to unsettle the country. "I am convinced that there is a permanent campaign [by the CIA] in Venezuela and in all the region," the vice president argued. "The CIA is acting in Venezuela as it is in Brazil; in all countries where there is a politics of change, we see the CIA acting immediately," he said.