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“But over time, we’ve seen what appears to be a more structured relationship,” he said. “There appears to be more movement of weapons across the frontier into Colombia, and some of it comes from official Venezuelan stockpiles, and it almost certainly involves the participation of Venezuelan officials, either corrupted or not.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez accused the Bush administration yesterday of climbing to “new heights of cynicism and shamelessness” with its Monday decision on arms sales

“Behind its despicable accusations is a useless campaign of shame designed to isolate Venezuela, destabilize its democratic government and prepare the political conditions for an attack,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

Mr. Shannon, speaking broadly about Mr. Chavez’s influence in the region, said he seems popular at the moment because he is “awash” in oil money.