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Cash link to Chávez denied

Argentine leader decries US charge

Email|Print| Text size + By Bill Cormier
Associated Press / December 14, 2007

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's new president reacted angrily yesterday to US charges that a suitcase full of Venezuelan cash seized by customs was intended to finance her campaign, calling it an example of "garbage in international politics."

President Cristina Fernandez also suggested that anyone who might think a female president is more easily influenced is wrong.

The disclosure came Wednesday in a Miami court hearing for a criminal complaint against four men arrested and charged with being illegal Venezuelan agents who attempted a coverup.

US prosecutors said a suitcase filled with nearly $800,000 was a campaign contribution to Fernandez, who was inaugurated this week as Argentina's first popularly elected female president. They said recorded conversations of those involved indicate the scheme reached to the highest levels of the Venezuelan government.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's government called it a "fabricated scandal."

Fernandez said she remains undeterred in her quest to deepen "relations with all Latin American nations and also friendship with . . . Venezuela."

"This president may be a woman but she's not going to allow herself to be pressured," said Fernandez, alluding to the scandal.

The president called it an example of "garbage in international politics."

She also took a jab at US officials, complaining that "more than friendly nations, they want countries . . . subordinated" to them.

In Washington, the State Department declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said it had been aware of the investigation and renewed US concerns about alleged attempts by the Chávez government to meddle in other Latin American countries.

"We have talked about their interference in the affairs of other countries. They have tried to insert themselves into various elections throughout the region and in several cases it has backfired," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, citing the specific example of Peru.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the charges "a desperate effort by the United States government using . . . the judicial branch for a political, psychological, media war against the progressive governments of the continent."

In Buenos Aires, Argentine Justice Minister Anibal Fernandez called the charges punishment for the government's good relations with Chávez.

He noted that Fernandez has promised even stronger trade and energy ties with Venezuela than her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner.

"What is happening is stupidity, and in the current framework, I think it is a reprisal that arises from the United States' attitude toward Venezuela," he told government news agency Telam.

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