Venezuela Shirks Money From U.S. 'Devil' to Fight Drugs

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Venezuela's foreign minister dismissed the U.S. government's decision to cut counter-drug aid to the South American nation, saying his country does not need money from "the devil."

"Venezuela is a sovereign country. [U.S. officials] can take their resources and do whatever they think they need to do," Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told reporters Tuesday. "We will continue fighting against drug trafficking."

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Monday that U.S. President George W. Bush's proposed 2007-2008 budget eliminated $2.2 million in counter-drug aid originally requested for Venezuela.

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President Hugo Chavez, who often refers to Bush as "the devil," broke off cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in August 2005 accusing its agents of espionage, and has yet to come up with a new agreement governing DEA agents' work in the country.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Penn told the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that the lack of joint plans involving the two governments has led to the funds being dedicated to other more receptive countries. "That is the reason and not any other," Penn was quoted as saying in comments published Wednesday.

Maduro said Chavez's government does not need "money from the devil" and accused the U.S. government of offering aid only to countries that "submit to its commands."

Venezuela is a major transit route for cocaine headed from neighboring Colombia to the United States and Europe.

Venezuelan officials say they are fighting drug trafficking with increasing success, but Washington claims that because of corruption and a weak judicial system the amount of drugs smuggled through Venezuela is increasing.

Washington also has watched uneasily the close alliance between Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who have spoken of plans for Venezuela to help its Andean neighbor industrialize coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, into legal products.

Maduro met Tuesday with his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca, to discuss bilateral cooperation programs.

In comments to the media afterward, Choquehuanca said his country would not permit that "our sacred leaf, the coca leaf, be satanized."

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