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US accuses 4 Venezuelans of aiding Colombia rebels
US government accuses 4 Chavez allies in Venezuela of aiding Colombian rebels
By The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' The U.S. government on Thursday accused four allies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of providing weapons and security to drug-trafficking Colombian rebels and it barred Americans from doing business with them.

The U.S. Treasury Department said the four have collaborated with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and supported the rebel group's "narcotics and arms trafficking activities."

The four include Congressman Freddy Bernal, Gen. Cliver Alcala Cordones, intelligence official Ramon Isidro Madriz Moreno and Amilcar Figueroa, who has represented Venezuela in the Latin American Parliament.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned the U.S. government's action.

"This is part of the agenda of permanent aggression against Venezuela, always in the spirit of trying to build a sort of dossier that guarantees higher levels of aggression toward our country in the future," Maduro told The Associated Press during an event at a Caracas hospital. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned the U.S. government's action as "part of the agenda of permanent aggression against Venezuela."

Figueroa has provided training to the rebels, "has served as a primary arms dealer for the FARC, and is a main conduit for FARC leaders based in Venezuela," the Treasury Department said.

It said Bernal, a longtime Chavez ally and a lawmaker for the president's socialist party, "has facilitated arms sales between the Venezuelan government and the FARC."

Alcala, an army major general, "has used his position to establish an arms-for-drugs route with the FARC," while the intelligence officer Madriz has "coordinated security" for the guerrillas, the Treasury Department said.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said the four were listed under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which freezes any assets they might have in the U.S. and bars American entities from transactions with them.

The U.S. government lists the FARC as a terrorist organization.

Adam Szubin, director of the office, said in the statement that the four Venezuelans are "key facilitators of arms, security, training and other assistance in support of the FARC's operations in Venezuela."

Maduro told the AP that U.S. Treasury Department officials have no authority to pass such judgments. He accused them of involvement "in various crimes against humanity because they're the ones responsible for all the economic policy that's destroying humanity right now."

"From a moral, political, technical point of view, that Treasury Department is disqualified from giving any sort of opinion," Maduro said.

Chavez has long been embroiled in tensions with the United States, and U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Venezuela of failing to take adequate steps to curb drug trafficking.

The U.S. Treasury Department previously said in 2008 that three other members of Chavez's inner circle had helped Colombian rebels by supplying arms and aiding drug-trafficking operations. Chavez later promoted one of those three, Henry Rangel Silva, to the rank of general-in-chief.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been without an ambassador since July 2010. Chavez rejected the U.S. nominee for ambassador, Larry Palmer, accusing him of making disrespectful remarks about his government. That led Washington to revoke the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador.

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