GEORGE GEDDA | Associated Press
The State Department is accusing Cuba of training Colombian rebels and says it is troubled by a large presence of Cuban personnel in Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, is a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The department’s view was outlined in response to a press question Friday about Secretary of State Colin Powell’s comments in an agency interview that Castro is “causing his own people to suffer greatly” and has become a troublemaker in the neighboring South American countries.
Elaborating Friday night on Powell’s remarks, a State Department official said in an authorized comment that the United States continues to be concerned by Cuba’s support for terrorist organizations in Colombia.
It said the two largest leftist guerrilla organizations there, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, continue to maintain a presence and receive training in Cuba. Both are on the State Department’s list of international terrorist organizations.
The official, who could not be identified under State Department ground rules, said in the written response that the United States worries that the large Cuban presence in Venezuela might harm Venezuela’s democratic system.
In an attempt to bolster the Chavez’s Venezuelan government, Cuba has dispatched thousands of health care workers, teachers and sports trainers to poor neighborhoods in the country.
The populist Chavez is widely popular among poor Venezuelans, who consider his self-proclaimed revolution a means for them to get better health care, education and greater access to the country’s vast oil wealth.
His adversaries accuse Chavez of increasingly authoritarian tactics. They contend he uses inflammatory rhetoric to stoke tensions between rich and poor and is trying to impose a Cuban-style dictatorship marked by deteriorating relations with the United States.
Venezuela has insisted it maintained strict adherence to democratic processes in a referendum last August in which an effort by such opponents to remove Chavez from office failed. The outcome was certified by the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, an Atlanta-based pro-democracy group led by former President Jimmy Carter.
Chavez’s opponents contend the results were rigged in the president’s favor.