The U.S. government on Thursday accused a powerful Venezuelan general, an intelligence official and two political allies of President Hugo Chavez of providing arms, security and training to Colombia's main rebel group. It barred Americans from doing business with them.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the four had closely collaborated with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, supporting the rebel group's "narcotics and arms trafficking activities." It did not specify a time period for that alleged assistance.
The four include congressman Freddy Bernal, Gen. Cliver Alcala Cordones, who heads the army's Fourth Armored Division, intelligence official Ramon Isidro Madriz Moreno and Amilcar Figueroa, who has represented Venezuela in the Latin American Parliament.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the U.S. announcement "part of the agenda of permanent aggression against Venezuela, always in the spirit of trying to build a sort of dossier that guarantees higher levels of aggression toward our country in the future."
Chavez's relations with the Colombian rebel group, including allowing it refuge in Venezuela, were a major sore point in relations with the Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe, who left office last year.
Chavez's ties to the FARC, beginning about 2006, are documented in electronic files found in the computers of Raul Reyes, a top FARC commander slain in 2008, that refer to Alcala and Figueroa. The files were shown to The Associated Press by a senior Colombian official.
In a January 2007 message to FARC's leadership, Venezuela-based FARC commander Ivan Marquez said Alcala would be delivering "20 bazookas" to him and another rebel leader.
The Treasury Department said Alcala "has used his position to establish an arms-for-drugs route with the FARC," while Madriz, an officer of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, has "coordinated security" for the guerrillas.
Figueroa has provided training to the rebels, "has served as a primary arms dealer for the FARC, and is a main conduit for FARC leaders based in Venezuela," the Treasury Department said.
In an August 2006 message also seen by the AP, Marquez recounts how Figueroa visited a missile factory in China "and talked about obtaining 1,000 field tents. He brought the catalogs."
Venezuelan government officials have called the documents fabricated.
The Treasury Department said Bernal, a longtime Chavez ally and a governing party lawmaker, "has facilitated arms sales between the Venezuelan government and the FARC."
Bernal, a former Caracas mayor, responded on his Twitter account saying: "It's an attack on the homeland."
The U.S. agency's Office of Foreign Assets Control added the four to its Foreign Narcotics Kingpins list, freezing any assets they might have in the U.S. and barring Americans from doing business with them.
Adam Szubin, director of the office, said in the statement that the four Venezuelans are "key facilitators of arms, security, training and other assistance in support of the FARC's operations in Venezuela."
In 2008, his office added three other members of Chavez's inner circle to the kingpin list, saying they had supplied the FARC with arms and aided drug-trafficking operations. Chavez later promoted one of those three, Henry Rangel Silva, to the rank of general-in-chief.
Washington and the European Union consider the FARC a terrorist organization, and the United States has long complained that senior Venezuelan officials have been helping the rebels smuggle cocaine through their territory.
Maduro, Venezuela's foreign minister, told the AP that U.S. officials have no authority to pass such judgments. He accused them of involvement "in various crimes against humanity because they're the ones responsible for all the economic policy that's destroying humanity right now."
The Colombian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the U.S. government's decision.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said recently that he does not have evidence Chavez's government is continuing to harbor FARC rebels.
He told the AP in an interview last month that Chavez is also cooperating more closely, capturing Colombian rebels in Venezuela when his government makes a specific request.
Santos said at the time that Colombia's then armed forces chief, Adm. Edgar Cely, had erred when he said the FARC continued to have camps in Venezuela. A new Colombian defense minister replaced Cely this week.
Chavez has long been embroiled in tensions with the United States, and U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Venezuela of failing to take adequate steps to curb drug trafficking.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been without an ambassador since July 2010. Chavez rejected the U.S. nominee for ambassador, Larry Palmer, accusing him of making disrespectful remarks about his government. That led Washington to revoke the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak, in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.