BY STEVEN DUDLEY AND PABLO BACHELET
WASHINGTON - President Bush has taken Venezuela off his list of allies in the war on drugs, saying that the government of President Hugo Chávez spurned anti-drug cooperation with U.S. officials and fired its effective law enforcement officers.
But the White House waived the cuts in U.S. foreign aid usually attached to the ''decertification'' so that it can continue to support Venezuelan pro-democracy groups that oppose the leftist Chávez.
Bush's decision is expected to sharply exacerbate already bitter U.S.-Venezuelan relations roiled by Washington's charges that Chávez is promoting subversion around the hemisphere and the Venezuelan president's allegations that Bush is out to kill him.
The U.S. State Department's No. 3 official, Nicholas Burns, announced the Bush administration decision Thursday in New York City around the time Chávez was arriving there for a U.N. summit gathering. The only other nation decertified this year was Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Accompanying Burns, U.S. drug czar John Walters said that in the past Venezuelan cooperation on drugs was ''quite successful and extensive'' but that now it seemed that Chávez ``no longer wants a productive relationship.''
Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel said of the annual certification process required by U.S. law, ``We reject it. . . . it's infantile.''
White House Press Release: Statement on President Authorizing Secretary of State to Transmit to Congress Annual Report Listing Major Illicit Drug-Producing and Drug-Transit Countries