Escalating the diplomatic crisis with Venezuela, the US has frozen the assets of three members of Hugo Chavez's inner circle it accuses of having links with drug-running Colombian rebels, the Wall Street Journal reports. The sanctions follow the expulsion by Venezuela and Bolivia of their US ambassadors—a move the State Department slammed yesterday as a "weak and desperate" attempt to distract restive citizens.
Intelligence reports seen by the Journal link Chavez to the FARC rebels and indicate that his aides protected huge shipments of cocaine. US officials say the sanctions have been in the works for weeks and are unrelated to the diplomatic row, although they are likely to increase tensions further. Thursday Chavez threatened to cut off oil exports to the US. Already testy relations between the White House and Latin America's leftist governments deteriorated in recent weeks when they supported Russia in the Georgia conflict, and two Russian bombers landed in Venezuela Thursday.