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Chavez Appoints Defense Chief U.S. Accuses of Aiding Terrorists

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez named a longtime ally accused by the U.S. of aiding a terrorist group to take over as defense minister.

Chavez named Gen. Henry Rangel Silva to the post as the self-declared 21st century socialist leader reshape his government to allow top officials to run in December regional elections.

The appointment of Rangel is likely to further complicate relations with the U.S. In 2008, the Treasury Department sanctioned Silva, then the head of military intelligence, and two other officials for allegedly helping the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, smuggle cocaine.

“I’ve called him here because he’s a humble man, a fighter for the people,” Chavez said Jan. 6 while appointing Silva.

The U.S. has accused Chavez of funneling cash to the FARC and harboring hundreds of Marxist rebels inside Venezuela. Chavez, a former paratrooper who will seek a third consecutive six-year term in October elections, has rejected claims that he’s failed to combat drug trafficking and terrorism as an effort by the “Empire” to topple him.

The Obama administration froze the assets of four more Chavez allies in September, alleging they provided training and weapons to the FARC. The U.S. has also toughened its stance on Chavez’s alleged support for Iran, sanctioning state-oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA in May for allegedly providing support to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

PDVSA, as the company is known, was alleged to have delivered at least two cargos of a gasoline additive to Iran between December, 2010, and March worth about $50 million, according to the U.S. State Department.

Opposition Critic

Chavez promoted Rangel Silva to General-in-Chief in 2010 after he promised that the military wouldn’t tolerate an opposition government because it would try to “sell” the country. He had served as No. 2 head of the military until his promotion over the weekend.

Chavez has said he will reshuffle his cabinet early this year to allow members, including close allies like Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Vice President Elias Jaua, to run in December regional elections. Rangel Silva replaces Carlos Mata Figueroa, who Chavez has said will run for governor of Nueva Esparta state.

Diosdado Cabello, a close confidant of Chavez and head of his PSUV political party, was sworn in Jan. 5 as the president of the National Assembly.

The sanction against Rangel Silva and other officials froze all of their U.S. assets and prohibits U.S. citizens from conducting financial or commercial transactions with them.

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