Chavez promotes general U.S. calls drug kingpin
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday he would promote a general accused by the United States of helping Colombian guerrillas smuggle cocaine, to armed forces' general in chief.
General Henry Rangel is currently head of strategic operations and will be promoted to the top military rank as soon as Saturday, Chavez said.
Rangel became embroiled in another controversy this week when a Venezuelan newspaper published an interview in which he reportedly said the army would not accept an opposition victory in the 2012 presidential election.
In a live address broadcast on all Venezuelan TV and radio stations, Chavez said the quotes were taken out of context and he praised Rangel for patriotism.
"We are going to promote him from major general to general in chief," Chavez said.
Chavez also criticized Jose Miguel Insulza, president of the Organization of American States, who called the comments attributed to Rangel "unacceptable."
Audio of the interview on the Ultimas Noticias newspaper's website suggested Rangel may have been referring to what the armed forces would do if the opposition won in 2012 and purged the army of Chavez loyalists, rather than to an opposition victory itself.
In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Rangel and another high-ranking officer, Hugo Carvajal, as "drug kingpins," accusing them of materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of Colombia's FARC rebels. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
The United States frequently accuses Chavez's government of being lenient on cocaine trafficking. Chavez, who ended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration several years ago, says his government has invested millions of dollars in fighting traffickers.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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