Venezuela demands US prove Chavez meddling charges

5 August 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela on Thursday demanded Washington prove its charges that President Hugo Chavez was using his nation’s oil wealth to fund anti-democratic groups and destabilize his South American neighbors.

The terse statement from Caracas responded to a senior US official who described in a letter the Bush administration’s ”mounting evidence” Venezuela was financing movements in Bolivia and Ecuador and other countries in the region.

“The Venezuelan government demands the US government present the proof subsecretary for legislative affairs Matthew Reynolds says he has of mounting evidence Venezuela uses its oil wealth to destabilize its democratic neighbors,” the statement said.

The spat is the latest to fray relations between Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, and the United States, which gets 15 percent of its petroleum imports from Caracas.

The US remarks, written in a letter in late July from Reynolds to a Florida representative, echoed comments earlier this year from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who described Chavez as a “negative force” in the region.

A close ally of communist Cuba, Chavez says his “new socialism” is an alternative to failed US foreign and trade policies. The tough-talking former soldier often accuses Washington of trying to topple him.

“They say we are the danger. They are the dangerous ones, and we have enough proof of that,” Chavez told troops during a ceremony on Thursday night. “They accuse us of interfering... they say they have evidence, but they never show any.”

US officials have increasingly portrayed populist Chavez as an authoritarian bully who is cracking down on foes at home and using his petroleum clout to influence regional politics.

Some military officials in Washington and Bogota have suggested Chavez is providing shelter and resources to Marxist guerrillas fleeing conflict in neighboring Colombia, a key US ally. Venezuela denies those charges.

Questioned by reporters on Thursday, a State Department spokesman stood by the Reynold’s letter, but he would not provide specific details of the evidence.

Chavez, elected in 1998 promising to use oil revenues to fight poverty, has sought closer political and energy alliances with South American countries, China, Russia, India and Iran to break his country’s traditional political and economic reliance on the United States.