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Venezuela denies U.S. drug report, Hezbollah charges

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela rejected on Tuesday a U.S. government report that said it was not cooperating fully in the war on drug trafficking, saying such accusations had to stop if bilateral relations were to improve.

A report from the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Congress’ investigative agency, said drug corruption had reached the ministerial level in Venezuela and decried a “permissive” attitude to trafficking groups from Colombia.

Venezuela, whose allies include Cuba and Iran, rejected the report that it said lacked objectivity and was intended to promote Washington’s “interventionist pretension.”

“The normalization of political relations with the government of the United States is subject to the termination of this intolerable practice,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

President Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper and coup leader, has had better relations with U.S. President Barack Obama than with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

But the drugs report marked a renewed rise in tensions over the past several weeks, fueled by mutual accusations of the respective U.S. and Venezuelan roles in last month’s coup d’etat in Honduras.

“There are people who got up their hopes that, with the election of a new president of the United States at the end of last year, the threat of the empire is over. No, it’s not over,” Chavez said at a graduation ceremony of university students in Caracas.

He often refers to the United States as the empire.

Despite Venezuelan purchases of radar and other anti-drug systems, the United States says 300 tonnes of cocaine passed through the country last year, up from 50 tonnes in 2004.

Venezuela said a national drug plan and an anti-drug fund that it launched recently would help it step up the fight against drug trafficking. It noted that Venezuela was used for smuggling between Colombia and the United States, the principal producer and consumer, respectively, of cocaine.

Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami in a speech to Venezuela’s national assembly cited increases in drugs confiscated, traffickers detained, and drug-running aircraft intercepted as evidence of the government’s efforts.

The United States itself was a paradise for drug dealers and gangs who got rich in the face of the ineptness and indifference of authorities, the Venezuelan government said.

Its foreign ministry also rejected allegations by a senior Israeli diplomat that Venezuela harbored cells of Hezbollah guerrillas.

Dorit Shavit, head of Latin America and Caribbean affairs at the Israeli foreign ministry, told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that the presence of Hezbollah had increased in recent years in Venezuela’s northwestern Guajira region and on the Caribbean island of Margarita.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry called the statement absurd.

Caracas broke off diplomatic relations with Jerusalem over the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip in January and opened diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority in April.

Additional reporting by Fabian Andres Cambero; editing by Eric Walsh