Chavez insists he won't accept US ambassador nominee, condemns US criticism on drugs

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez insisted on Friday that he won't accept the U.S. government's nominee for ambassador and condemned President Barack Obama's designation of Venezuela as a country failing in counter-drug efforts.

Chavez dismissed the White House's criticism of Venezuela on drugs, calling it a "new attack by the Yankee empire."

Obama, in a memorandum released Thursday, named Venezuela along with Bolivia and Myanmar as "countries that have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements."

In response, Chavez lashed out at the Obama administration, calling it "an irresponsible government, a murderous government, a coup-mongering government." Chavez has long said the U.S. uses the drug issue against him for political reasons, saying Venezuela is making significant efforts to stem the flow of Colombian cocaine.

In a televised speech, Chavez pointed to this week's arrest of an alleged boss of Colombia's Norte de Valle cartel, noting he is one of 16 drug suspects detained by Venezuelan authorities this year. The arrest of Jaime Alberto Marin was announced Thursday, and Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera Salazar praised his capture as an example of effective police work by both countries.

Still, U.S. officials say, the amount of cocaine passing through Venezuela has shot up during Chavez's administration and Venezuela has increasingly become an important jump-off point for cocaine shipments to West Africa and on to Europe.

The White House has repeatedly included Venezuela on its list of countries not fully cooperating in anti-drug operations.

Chavez said the U.S. has wrongly appointed itself a judge of other nations, and asked: "Who gave the United States government that right?"

He read aloud a statement protesting the White House's stance, and reiterated that his government will not accept nominee Larry Palmer to be U.S. ambassador.

Chavez previously rejected having Palmer as envoy after the diplomat suggested during his Senate confirmation process that morale is low in Venezuela's military and also expressed concern about Colombian rebels finding refuge in Venezuela and about a growing Cuban influence in Chavez's military.

"We wouldn't allow him to enter Venezuelan territory," Chavez said, adding that if Washington decides not to send an ambassador, that is the U.S. government's prerogative.

"If they decide to throw out our ambassador, let them throw him out. That's their problem. It isn't our problem," Chavez said.

Palmer, who has served as ambassador in Honduras and charge d'affaires in Ecuador, was tapped by Obama's administration to try to manage Washington's difficult relationship with Venezuela. The U.S. State Department has said he is the best candidate for the job and it stands behind his nomination.

The diplomatic relationship has been tense for much of Chavez's 11-year presidency, even though the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, the lifeblood of the South American nation's economy.

Chavez did not immediately respond to U.S. authorities' announcement of the arrest of a scientist and his wife who — in contacts with an undercover U.S. agent posing as a Venezuelan agent — allegedly offered to help develop a nuclear weapon for Venezuela.

U.S. authorities did not allege that Venezuela sought U.S. secrets, and Chavez has repeatedly said Venezuela wants to develop a nuclear program purely for peaceful energy uses.

Chavez responded to the U.S. criticism on drugs while addressing leaders of his socialist party at a campaign event ahead of Sept. 26 congressional elections.

He said he believes the timing of the drugs announcement "has to do with the elections" and accused his opponents of being in cahoots with the United States.