MADRID/WASHINGTON- Two separate probes in the United States and Spain place Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's leftist government in cahoots with Spanish and Colombian rebels in drug running, terror planning and an assassination plot to kill Colombia's president.
The United States directly accused Venezuelan security forces this week of assisting Colombian guerrillas with drug trafficking. Then Spain charged that Caracas collaborated in an assassination plot with Basque separatists and Colombian rebels to kill Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and other top political figures.
Former Colombian president Andres Pastrana demanded Tuesday that Chavez give a "clear answer" to the assassination allegations.
"I demand that President Chavez provide a clear response to the head of the Spanish government," Pastrana, who was Colombia's president between 1998 and 2002, told public radio RNE.
Spain is also asking that Venezuela answer the charges but said on Tuesday that Venezuela seems to be cooperating with the probe.
"The Spanish government will act accordingly depending on the explanation and the statements that are made by the Venezuelan government," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told journalists in Hanover.
Caracas calls the charges "baseless" and Chavez dismissed Spain's claims as "sad remains" of Spanish colonialism and part of a campaign to discredit his government.
"We support neither FARC nor ETA nor guerillas nor terrorism," he told reporters following talks in Montevideo with his Uruguayan counterpart Jose Mujica.
But U.S. officials do not agree.
Chavez "does not cooperate consistently with the United States and other countries to reduce the flow of cocaine through Venezuela," the US State Department said.
"There is strong evidence that some elements of Venezuela's security forces directly assist these FTOs (foreign terrorist organizations)," it said in its annual report on international drug trafficking.
The document identified Venezuela as aiding FARC and the National Liberation Army, leftist guerrillas long accused of protecting drug trafficking operations to finance their operations.
Labeling Venezuela a major drug-transit country, the report said drug flows had increased sharply last year to the United States, Europe and West Africa via the South American country.
Venezuela severed cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration in 2006 amid deteriorating relations with Washington.
"You see an extraordinary path of particularly aviation exports out of the Venezuelan area next to the border of Colombia," State Department counternarcotics chief David Johnson told reporters.
He said that although Washington had maintained contacts with Venezuelan officials on the scourge of drug trafficking, there have been no "significant efforts to stop that traffic."
Drug trafficking has "increased the level of corruption, crime and violence in Venezuela," according to the report.
"The lack of effective criminal prosecutions, politicization of investigations and corruption undermine public confidence in the judicial system."
Yet it also noted that the United States was ready to resume counternarcotics cooperation with the Chavez government, calling the return of ambassadors from both countries to their posts in June an "opportunity."
" Venezuela's Ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez said on Thursday ahead of the report's publication.
"The State Department's annual charge that Venezuela is not cooperating in the fight against drugs is purely political," he said.
In Spain, a judge made the allegations of Chavez terror ties public on Monday in a 26-page indictment in which he charged six members of the Basque guerrillas ETA and seven members of the Colombian rebel group FARC with a series of crimes, including terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder.
Investigating judge Eloy Velasco has also accused the two groups of plotting to kill ex-Colombian president Pastrana, who lived in Madrid from 2002 until 2005, and Colombia's current president, Alvaro Uribe, while he visited Spain.
He based his case largely on information found in the computer of Raul Reyes, the FARC's former number two who was killed in Ecuador in March 2008 in a Colombian military operation.
Velasco based his case largely on information found in the computer of Raul Reyes, the FARC's former number two who was killed in Ecuador in March 2008 in a Colombian military operation.
Velasco said a FARC member had monitored the Colombian embassy in Spain and the routes taken by Pastrana, according to a copy of his ruling.
The FARC member concluded that "it would not be difficult to carry out an attack on those two targets as long as they could count on the help of ETA," the ruling said.
The Colombian guerrillas asked ETA to follow Pastrana, as well as Colombia's former ambassador to Spain Noemi Sanin, current Vice President Francisco Santos and the former mayor of Bogota Antanas Mockus "with the aim of assassinating one of them when they were in Spain."
"More recently" Uribe was also added to that list, the ruling said.
It was not clear when the attacks were to be carried out.
Velasco alleged "Venezuelan government cooperation in the illegal collaboration between FARC and ETA."
He said the key to this cooperation was ETA member Arturo Cubillas Fontan, who was named to a post in Venezuela's agriculture ministry in 2005 and whose Venezuelan wife, Goizeder Odriozola Lataillade, is an official in the leftist government of President Hugo Chavez.
Fontan was in charge of ETA operations "in this part of Latin America since 1999" and "coordinated relations between FARC and ETA and the participation of ETA members in courses on explosives and urban guerilla warfare," Velasco said.
ETA members were escorted by Venezuelan soldiers to a jungle camp in the state of Apure in western Venezuela where they trained FARC rebels on how to handle explosives, he added.
In exchange FARC rebels provided ETA guerrillas with training on how to use surface-to-air missiles.
The judge charged Fontan and two FARC members, Edgar Gustavo Navarro Morales and Victor Ramon Vargas Salazar, with conspiracy to commit terrorist murders.
He called on Spain's foreign and interior ministries to ask the governments of Cuba and Venezuela to extradite some of the 13 suspects who are residing in those two countries.
Uribe has rejected a political dialogue with the FARC, which has battled the Colombian government for 45 years.
"I think that we will have a prudent reaction and look at what is happening through diplomatic channels," Uribe told RCN radio in Bogota on Monday from Montevideo where he was attending the inauguration of Uruguay's President Jose Mujica.
Tensions between Bogota and Caracas, spurred by a US deal with Bogota allowing US forces to run anti-drug operations from Colombian bases, have resulted in the severing of diplomatic ties and other tensions between the neighbours.
ETA, which figures on the terrorist blacklists of the European Union and the United States, is blamed for 828 deaths in its 41-year campaign for independence in the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France.
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