CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) on Sunday accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (search) of using its agents for espionage, and said Venezuela was suspending cooperation with the U.S. agency.
Chavez, who regularly accuses the U.S. government of plotting against him, said "the DEA isn't absolutely necessary for the fight against drug trafficking."
U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield said last week that the United States had hoped to maintain cooperative anti-drug efforts in Venezuela, and that without them "there is only one group that wins, and that group is the drug traffickers."
But Chavez maintains that the DEA has been using the fight against drugs as a pretext to gather intelligence on Venezuela.
"The DEA was using the fight against drug trafficking as a mask, to support drug trafficking, to carry out intelligence in Venezuela (search) against the government," Chavez said.
"Under those circumstances we decided to make a clean break with those accords, and we are reviewing them," Chavez said, referring to the cooperative agreements under which the DEA has operated in the South American country.
Prosecutors last month opened an investigation into the DEA in Venezuela.
"We have detected intelligence infiltration that threatened national security and defense," Chavez said.
He acknowledged that Venezuela is a major transit point for cocaine moving from Colombia to the United States and Europe. But he said Venezuela's own armed forces have made important advances against trafficking.
As for the DEA, he said specifics of his government's decisions will be announced soon. Chavez's comments were the most specific to date on the accusations against the DEA.
Chavez criticized U.S. policy on drugs, saying that while the United States is the world's top consumer of drugs, its government does little to try to lessen consumption.
He also criticized the CIA and FBI of not doing enough to catch major drug kingpins in the United States. "How strange they don't find them," he said.
The relations between Venezuela and the United States have been marked by tension during Chavez's more than six years in power. Chavez accuses the U.S. government of backing a brief coup against him in 2002, while U.S. officials have dismissed such accusations as ridiculous.
Despite frequent harsh words between the governments, Venezuela remains a major supplier of oil to the United States.