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Venezuela - US Relations - Bush

President Hugo Chávez continuously defined himself in opposition to the United States, using incendiary rhetoric to publicly insult President Bush and senior administration officials. President Chávez's criticism of the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan in November 2001 as "terrorism" especially irked the White House. The United States continued to seek constructive engagement with the Venezuelan Government, focusing on areas of technical cooperation. Major US interests in Venezuela include promotion of US exports and protection of US investment, preservation of Venezuela's constitutional democracy, closer counternarcotics cooperation, more vigorous efforts on counterterrorism, and continued access to petroleum.

U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been tense in recent years, although both nations agreed at the April 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad to seek a relationship based on mutual interest. President Chavez ordered the expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador on September 11, 2008 in solidarity with the Bolivian Government's decision to expel the U.S. Ambassador in La Paz. The U.S. Government ordered the reciprocal expulsion of the Venezuelan Ambassador in Washington.

Venezuela is a minor source country for opium poppy and coca but a major transit country for cocaine and heroin. Money laundering and judicial corruption are major concerns. In 2004 and early 2005, counternarcotics cooperation between the U.S. and Venezuela deteriorated significantly. In March 2005, the Venezuelan National Guard removed its highly experienced members from the U.S.-supported Prosecutor's Drug Task Force. In August 2005, the Government of Venezuela accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of espionage and terminated cooperation with the DEA pending negotiation of a new cooperation agreement, which had gone unsigned as of October 2006. The United States has concluded that Venezuela demonstrably failed to meet its international counternarcotics obligations every year since 2005.

Venezuela traditionally purchased much of its military equipment from the United States. US foreign military sales to Venezuela in 2002 totaled US$20 million. However, Venezuela increasingly is turning to other countries for military equipment. The Chávez government apparently saw the United States as its principal adversary. As the Chávez government increased its security ties with Cuba, it reduced Venezuela's traditionally close military and security ties with the United States. For example, in March 2004 Venezuela withdrew its military contingent from the US Army's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (the former School of the Americas), in Fort Benning, Georgia.

In June 2004, Venezuela was listed at Tier 3 status in the State Department's Report on Trafficking in Persons. Tier 3 status indicates a perceived lack of effort to combat human trafficking. On September 15, 2005 President Bush decertified Venezuela on counternarcotics cooperation.

The Government of Venezuela has stated that it regards the US-led war on terrorism as a ruse for US imperial ambitions. It has refused to condemn narco-terrorist organizations based in Colombia, and has publicly championed the cause of terrorists in Iraq. Although it is unclear how they were obtained, some weapons seized from Colombian narco-terrorists have come from official Venezuelan stocks and facilities. And the Venezuelan Government has done little to improve the security of travel and identity documents it issues.

On May 15, 2006, pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), as amended, the Department of State transmitted to Congress a determination and certification by the Secretary of State that Venezuela is not fully cooperating with the antiterrorism efforts of the United States. Accordingly, the statute prohibits the sale or license for export under the AECA of defense articles and defense services to Venezuela during the fiscal year 2007.

Therefore, as of October 1, 2006, new U.S. sales and licenses for the commercial export of defense articles and defense services to Venezuela will be prohibited. In addition, as a matter of policy, as of October 1, the retransfer to Venezuela of U.S.-origin defense articles and technology will not be permitted. In the period before October 1, the United States continued to carefully scrutinize all proposed arms transfers and sales to Venezuela on a case-by-case basis. Exports that did not support the foreign policy and national security goals of the United States were not approved. Due to US concerns regarding Venezuela's multi-billion dollar arms acquisition program, the US had closely scrutinized all arms transfers to Venezuela. In addition, amendments to existing foreign military sales cases will not be allowed for Venezuela. Already approved export authorizations will not be rescinded and exports under ITAR exemptions will continue to be allowed absent a Federal Register notice to the contrary.

Since the embargo includes a ban on spare parts and maintenance assistance Venezuela may be forced to overhaul their entire equipment supply in order to have a stock that can be repaired and maintained into the future. The embargo was enacted May 15, 2006, after the State Department conducted what it called "a hard-eyed assessment" of Venezuela's "cooperation" with the United States in the war on terrorism. Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested the decision came after the US ruled that Venezuela was not doing enough to combat terrorism.

On 05 September 2006 the US Department of State conveyed a Note Verbal to the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Washington, reaffirming the decision made by its government of revoking the sale of military components and services from the United States to Venezuela, and calling for the immediate closure of the country's Military Acquisitions Office in Miami. The deadline established in such Note was 30 September 2006.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela stated that "The Bolivarian Government believes that the decision made by the Government of the United States is framed in the continued and aggressive policy implemented by the North-American imperialism against Venezuela, which is based on a low-intensity conflict scenario. Likewise, the aforementioned undoubtedly constitutes a new hostile action aimed at deploying a sort of blockade in the military field against our country, which we firmly reject."

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