- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

The Bush administration is becoming increasingly concerned about what it sees as a joint effort by Cuba and Venezuela to nurture anti-American sentiment in Latin America with money, political indoctrination and training.

As U.S. officials see it, the alliance combines Cuban President Fidel Castro’s political savvy with surplus cash that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez obtains from oil exports.

Venezuelan resources may have been decisive in the ouster of Bolivia’s elected, pro-American president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, said the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A key recipient of Venezuelan help has been Evo Morales, a charismatic Bolivian legislator who has broad support among his country’s Indian population. He is an avowed opponent of the capitalist system.

Before Mr. Sanchez de Lozada was deposed, one official said, Venezuela’s military attache in Bolivia was expelled for giving money to Mr. Morales, and Mr. Morales received money from Venezuelan officials during a visit to Caracas.

There also has been evidence of Venezuelan money and manpower in Ecuador and Uruguay being used in support of antigovernment groups, the officials said.

Despite Venezuelan denials, they said, Mr. Chavez has supported Colombia’s two main Marxist guerrilla groups known by the Spanish acronyms FARC and ELN rebels; Mr. Chavez is allowing use of territory in western Venezuela as a springboard for attacks inside Colombia.

In Caracas Monday, Tarek William Saab, the pro-Chavez head of Venezuela’s congressional foreign-relations commission, denied that Venezuela is supporting FARC rebels or meddling in Bolivia’s internal affairs. Mr. Saab accused the U.S. government of “using slander and defamation to weaken a constitutional government like ours.”

“It’s false and irresponsible and cowardly,” Mr. Saab said.

U.S. officials said Mr. Castro has been providing training, advice and logistical support to leftist groups in the region, a sign of re-engagement after relative inactivity in the 1990s.

Roger Noriega, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s top aide for Latin America, said Friday that the 77-year-old Mr. Castro, in his “final days,” appears to be “nostalgic for destabilizing elected governments.”

“From the point of view of his democratic neighbors, Castro’s actions are increasingly provocative,” he said.

Cuba sees the United States in the same light. A top Cuban National Assembly leader, Osvaldo Martinez, in remarks aired repeatedly by the government media in recent days, said Cubans must redouble their attention in 2004 “to the growing aggressiveness of the United States and its threats against Cuba.”

This spring, the Bush administration is expected to issue a report being prepared under Mr. Powell’s supervision on how to achieve a quick transition to democracy in Cuba.

Mr. Castro has deployed considerable manpower to Venezuela to help Mr. Chavez defeat efforts by enemies to end his rule through a recall vote. Cuban agents are said to be providing security for high-ranking Venezuelan officials.

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