U.S Accuses Chavez Advisers of Aiding Colombian Drug Traffickers

The United States on Friday accused three members of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's inner circle of aiding Colombian rebels by procuring arms and facilitating drug trafficking.

The U.S. also expelled Venezuela's ambassador as a diplomatic shoving match with leftist Latin American leaders intensified.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned the expulsions this week of the American ambassadors to Venezuela and Bolivia. He said the United States would kick out the Venezuelan even though anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had seemingly beaten him to the punch by announcing Thursday night that he was yanking his ambassador.

"This reflects the weakness and desperation of these leaders," McCormack said of Chavez and the embattled Bolivian President, Evo Morales.

Morales began the diplomatic tit for tat by expelling the U.S. ambassador Wednesday. Chavez, who has been a political patron for Morales, followed suit Thursday.

"Clearly he's worried about his protege," McCormack said of Chavez.

Separately, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, both high ranking Venezuelan intelligence officials. A former government minister, Ramon Emilio Rodriguez Chacin, was also named.

Treasury said Friday the three materially assisted the narcotics trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, describing the leftist group as a narco-terrorist organization.

At the State Department, McCormack said the sanctions had been in the works for some time and are unrelated to the diplomatic dispute.