The United States imposed sanctions against Venezuela this month because of its allegedly poor record on human trafficking, straining already stretched relations between Presidents Bush and Hugo Chavez.
Bush ordered the sanctions Sept. 10 against six nations the U.S. State Department deemed are failing to combat human trafficking, an underground industry that generates at least $10 billion annually and involves at least 800,000 victims a year.
The sanctions mean that Venezuela could lose up to $1 billion in loans from international financial institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank for a $750 million hydroelectric plant, and projects aimed at clean drinking water, Amazon rain forest protection and judicial reform.
U.S. officials contend that the sanctions are warranted against Venezuela because it allows the trafficking of Brazilian and Colombian women into the country for sexual exploitation and the exporting of Venezuelan women to Western Europe for its sex trade.
But Chavez's government says it is fighting trafficking and charges that the U.S. move is part of a campaign by the Bush administration to discredit, destabilize and overthrow the fiery leftist leader, who won a recall election by a landslide last month. They say the Bush administration also backed a short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez and is funneling millions to his opponents.
"Let us be clear: The real purpose of President Bush's executive determination [imposing sanctions] is political," Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, said in a statement.
White House officials deny that politics influenced the administration's decision. John Miller, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for human trafficking and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's top adviser on the issue, said, "We try to the best of our ability not to let other political issues outside of trafficking intrude."
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.