updated 12/20/2006 9:35:29 PM ET 2006-12-21T02:35:29

Venezuela’s president Wednesday backed Ecuador’s president-elect Rafael Correa in his fight against U.S.-funded spraying of Colombian drug crops, accusing Washington of hypocrisy in its war on drugs.

President Hugo Chavez also accused the United States of using its anti-narcotics drive to gain a military foothold in Latin America and charged the American envoy in Caracas with lying when he said drug smuggling was soaring in Venezuela.

“The battle against drug smuggling has been an excuse that imperialists have used for several years to penetrate our country, trample our people and justify a military presence in Latin America,” Chavez told reporters at Caracas’ airport during a visit by his leftist ally Correa.

“The big cause is over there, the consumption, the drug money, the banks that launder billions of dollars each year but no one does anything about it,” he said.

Correa has argued that spraying illegal Colombian crops on the Ecuadorean border with herbicides ruins legal crops and harms people’s health on Ecuador’s side. Ecuador has withdrawn its ambassador to Bogota in protest.

“Colombia must look for other methods,” said Chavez.

Colombia, the world’s biggest cocaine producer, insists the fumigation is safe.

Correa also has said he will refuse to extend the lease on a key U.S. counter-narcotics operation based in the Ecuadorean port of Manta, from where U.S. airmen fly missions over Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

Groundswell on the left
Correa, who takes office next month, is part of a growing alliance of leftist leaders in Latin America. He and Chavez will use this visit to explore co-operation between OPEC heavyweight Venezuela and Ecuador’s tiny economy.

In another broadside against U.S. drugs policy, Chavez said relations with Washington were stalled until the U.S. ambassador in Caracas retracted his charge that drug smuggling had soared in Venezuela.

Chavez said William Brownfield had uttered a “great lie” in saying that smuggling had increased in part because Caracas severed cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last year.

He added that Brownfield’s remarks scotched the hopes of Tom Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Latin America, of cooperating with Venezuela on points of mutual interest.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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