Venezuela, Argentina Accuse US of Smear Campaign

By Chris Carlson

December 13, 2007

Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez, Venezuelan-American Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (AFP)

Mérida, December 13, 2007, ( Government authorities from both Venezuela and Argentina accused the United States of carrying out a smear campaign against them yesterday after US officials arrested four individuals accused of being agents of the Venezuelan government. US officials alleged that the arrested individuals were involved in trying to cover up an "international scandal" between Venezuela and Argentina, but both countries have rejected the claims.

Three Venezuelan citizens and one Uruguayan citizen were arrested in Miami on Tuesday night and appeared before a federal court yesterday on charges of "acting and conspiring to act as agents of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela within the United States," according to an official statement from the US Department of Justice.

The Assistant US Attorney General for National Security Kenneth Wainstein accused the defendants of "coordinating and participating in a series of meetings" with the Venezuelan-American Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, who was involved in the illegal trafficking of nearly US$ 800,000 from Venezuela to Argentina last August.

Argentinean customs officials caught Antonini on August 4th of this year attempting to enter the country with a suitcase that contained US$ 790,000. Argentinean officials confiscated the money, but Antonini returned to his home in South Florida.

According to the Assistant Attorney General, the four defendants were working on behalf of the Venezuelan government to get Antonini's help in covering up the source of the money, which, according to US officials, was for "the presidential campaign of Cristina [Fernandez] Kirchner."

"The complaint filed today outlines an alleged plot by agents of the Venezuelan government to manipulate an American citizen in Miami in an effort to keep the lid on a burgeoning international scandal," said Wainstein.

But both the Argentinean and Venezuelan governments have rejected the claims, calling them a "desperate attempt" to tarnish the growing ties between the two countries. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro assured that the case was part of a U.S. plan to damage Venezuela's image.

"This information from Miami makes the role of the US government in this campaign to damage the relations between our governments very clear," said Maduros who assured that they have "no doubt" that the United States is behind the political scandal.

"We are seeing a desperate effort by the government of the United States, using delicate mechanisms of judicial power for a political, psychological, and media war against the continent's progressive governments," he assured.

President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez also rejected the claims, comparing them to an American movie in which "you never know how much is true and how much is a lie." The Argentinean president assured that she "would not be pressured," and insisted that she would maintain her close ties to the Venezuelan government.

"All of our convictions and policies are going to be deepened because Argentina has never needed anyone to tell her who she can be friends with," she said.

President Fernandez, without actually mentioning the United States, accused the country of wanting to subordinate them to their own interests.

"Instead of wanting nations of friends, they want nations of employees and subordinates," she said.

But the president assured that she would continue efforts to strengthen Mercosur, the Bank of the South, and the construction of a "multilateral world."

Argentinean cabinet member Alberto Fernandez, who called the case a "US intelligence operation," also explained that the accusations of the US officials are unlikely to be true. He pointed out that Antonini was detained by the Argentinean officials upon entering the country, and the money was confiscated. Fernandez explained that if the Chavez government wanted to bring in money to finance the campaign of Cristina Fernandez, they could have easily done it a few days later when President Chavez visited the country.

"If the objective was to enter [the country] with a suitcase of money he could have entered the next day in Chavez' airplane and no one would have noticed," he said.

"But this thing has the characteristics of being a dirty trick to tarnish the presence of Chavez in Argentina," said Fernandez. "I have no doubt of that."

Fernandez called on the United States to answer Argentina's request for the extradition of Antonini Wilson, so that they can carry out an investigation with regards to the $800,000.

"If the United States is really interested in the truth, they should extradite Antonini Wilson. But I'm afraid they are protecting him," he said.

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