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U.S. sanctions Venezuelan officials for allegedly helping FARC rebels

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Venezuela's foreign minister counters that the United States has no moral authority
  • An accused Venezuelan lawmaker decries the move as an "attack on the homeland"
  • U.S. Treasury alleges four Venezuelan officials provide arms and security to the FARC
  • The four are named as drug "kingpins" by U.S. Treasury

Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) -- The U.S. Treasury Department has added four Venezuelan officials to its drug "kingpin" list for allegedly providing arms and security to the FARC leftist guerrilla group.

Lawmaker Freddy Bernal --a loyalist of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- and three other Venezuelan officials are now on the list, the Treasury Department announced Thursday.

The others receiving the designation of "Specially Designated National" under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act are Amilcar Figueroa, alternate president of the Latin American Parliament; Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcala of the Venezuelan army; and Ramon Madriz, an officer in the country's intelligence service.

Their assets are now blocked, and U.S. citizens are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

The U.S. government designated the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as the FARC, as a "significant foreign narcotics trafficker" in 2003.

Bernal decried the U.S. Treasury Department's move in a post on Twitter Thursday, calling it an "attack on the homeland."

"If they are trying to intimidate me with their gringo list, now more than ever, I kneel down for CHAVEZ and the Revolution," he wrote.

A Treasury Department's statement Thursday alleges that Bernal "has facilitated arms sales between the Venezuelan government and the FARC"; Alcala "has used his position to establish an arms-for-drugs route with the FARC"; Figueroa "has served as a primary arms dealer for the FARC, and is a main conduit for FARC leaders based in Venezuela"; and Madriz "has coordinated security for the FARC" while working as a "key officer of Venezuela's intelligence service."

Alcala, Figueroa and Madriz could not be immediately reached for comment.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro criticized the U.S. Treasury Department for "trying to become a type of world police to judge the decent citizens of our country."

"A country like that has no moral authority to judge generals and political officials in Venezuela," he said, according to a statement released by Venezuela's information ministry. "We reject it and we believe that the drug trafficking mafias are there, in a sick society like the United States."

The U.S. Treasury Department made similar accusations against senior Venezuelan officials in 2008, freezing their assets and alleging that they armed and funding the FARC.

One of the intelligence officials accused in 2008, Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, has since become Venezuela's top military general.

A 2008 statement from the Treasury Department said Rangel "assisted the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC" and pushed for more cooperation between the Venezuelan government and the leftist rebels.

Tensions also have flared between Venezuela and Colombia over Venezuela's alleged FARC ties.

Colombia has accused Venezuela of harboring members of the FARC, which has fought to overthrow the Colombian government for decades. But shortly after his inauguration last year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Chavez and pledged to wipe the slate clean.

In June, Venezuelan authorities arrested a key ideological leader of the FARC. And in April, Venezuelan authorities arrested Joaquin Perez Becerra, whom Colombian authorities accuse of conspiring in and helping finance terrorism through his alleged work as a spokesman for the FARC in Europe.

Journalist Osmary Hernandez contributed to this report.