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José Vicente Rangel

Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel said that Venezuela would no longer give diplomatic immunity to DEA agents in Venezuela and that it might deny visas to U.S. citizens. Rangel announced this decision in reaction to a move by the U.S. government to revoke visas of six National Guard members who were in charge of combating drug trafficking.

“The Venezuelan government ... will proceed quickly, with responsibility, but firmly to reciprocate in the cases of U.S. citizens who travel to our country,” said Rangel. “We are no longer going to accept civilian employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration being assigned to the US embassy, because that gives them the benefit of immunity,” he added.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas declined to explain why the visas of the National Guard officers were revoked, saying that such information is confidential.

These developments in the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela represented the latest escalation in the deterioration of cooperation between the two countries in the effort to fight drug trafficking. Last week President Chavez had said that Venezuela would suspend all cooperation with the DEA because the Venezuelan government had evidence that some DEA officers were spying on Venezuela and were also involved in drug trafficking themselves. Another reason for the suspension of cooperation that various Venezuelan officials named is that the DEA operates outside of the parameters of Venezuelan law. The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, denied these accusations.

Despite the numerous complaints by U.S. officials that Venezuela is not cooperating enough with U.S. authorities in the drug interdiction effort, drug seizures have increased steadily since Chavez came into office. Nonetheless, Venezuelan officials say they believe the U.S. will “decertify” Venezuela’s work against drug trafficking next month, when it issues its annual evaluation. A decertification would mean that the U.S. would block Venezuelan efforts to apply for credit from international financial institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank.