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Posted January 15, 2004 by publisher in Cuba-World Trade

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Miami Herald

A State Department spokesman, calling Cuba an antidemocratic force, says Venezuela’s close ties to Fidel Castro worry Venezuela’s neighbors.

WASHINGTON - (AP)—Venezuela’s neighbors are bothered by close ties between the Venezuelan and Cuban governments and their potential dangers to democracy, the State Department said Monday.

Department spokesman Adam Ereli also said Cuba remains an antidemocratic force in the region but stopped short of implicating Venezuela in antidemocratic activities.

Privately, however, administration officials say Cuba and Venezuela are working together to oppose pro-American, democratic governments in the region with money, political indoctrination and training.

Ereli criticized any action that ‘‘might impede free and fair democratic processes’’ in the hemisphere and said Cuba has a long history of attempting to undermine elected governments in the region.

‘‘For that reason the close ties between the government of Venezuela and the government of Cuba raise concerns among Venezuela’s democratic neighbors,’’ Ereli said.

In Caracas on Monday, Tarek William Saab, head of Venezuela’s congressional foreign relations commission and a supporter of President Hugo Chávez, assailed an Associated Press story that recounted U.S. worries about Chávez’s activities.

Saab said the United States used “slander and defamation to weaken a constitutional government like ours.’‘

‘‘It’s false and irresponsible and cowardly,’’ Saab said.

Chávez’s actions have worried Washington for some time, but U.S. officials have said little publicly. To do otherwise, the officials said, could give the Venezuelan leader material to use for political advantage.

Aside from his ties to Cuba, Chávez’s democratic credentials are becoming increasingly more questionable in the eyes of U.S. officials, even though he came to power in 1999 through a democratic election. Chávez’s enemies are trying to depose him through a recall election.

Both President Bush and Chávez are expected at a hemispheric summit meeting Jan. 12-13 in Mexico.

The principal administration goal for the hemisphere is to conclude a free-trade agreement to extend from Alaska to Argentina by early 2005.

Some countries have shown more enthusiasm for the proposal than others.

No leader is more critical than Chávez, who said a week ago that its adoption would be ‘‘like committing suicide.’’ He said poor countries of the region would not be able to compete.

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