by Tom Ramstack

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is again launching accusations of wrongdoing against the United States after he says his navy chased a foreign nuclear submarine away from Venezuela's coast.

His latest accusations against the United States might be among his last as the ailing Venezuelan president fights a losing battle against cancer, according to former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega.

Noriega wrote in a column for the newsletter InterAmerican Security Watch that Chavez's cancer is spreading more quickly than expected and could kill him within six months.

For the moment, Chavez has ordered an investigation of the foreign submarine that he says was detected in Venezuelan waters on Tuesday.

Although he did not directly say it was an American submarine, his rhetoric left little doubt he was referring to the United States.

"We can't accuse anybody," Chavez said during an interview with a Venezuelan state television program. "We suspect. We suspect."

He said the suspicions focus on "empires" that have sometimes engaged in spying in the Caribbean.

Chavez has often referred to the United States and some European allies as empires and accused their agents of spying as part of an effort to enlarge U.S. influence in Latin America.

"Now you know how the empires are used to going around the Caribbean Sea and going everywhere, and they also use their satellites for espionage," Chavez said during the television interview. "It's espionage."

The Venezuelan navy noticed the foreign submarine near the Venezuelan island of La Orchila north of Caracas, Chavez said. The Venezuelan military has been conducting training drills near the island.

"It was pursued," Chavez said. "It escaped because it's much faster than ours."

Venezuela's navy uses diesel-powered submarines, which are outdated by U.S. standards.

The speed and size of the foreign submarine indicated "it's a nuclear-powered submarine," Chavez said.

He praised the Venezuelan navy for confronting the submarine.

"It took flight, it was chased, but escaped because it was much faster," Chavez said. "Luckily our sailors and our people did not fall for provocation."

Delegates to Venezuela's National Assembly responded with their own words of concern.

Delegate William Farinas implied the foreign submarine was another sign an "empire" sought to control Venezuela's oil industry.

He recommended a public recognition for Venezuela's armed forces for their "obvious and courageous act of sovereignty" and said the country's foreign ministry should be "alert for any situation."

Another National Assembly delegate, Tomas Guanipa, urged a more cautious approach. He said an investigation of the submarine incident should precede any tough political talk.

Chavez's comments demonstrate a "gravity that demands a serious, objective investigation," Guanipa said.

Accusations about a trespassing submarine follow another round of harsh exchanges between U.S. and Venezuelan diplomats.

William Brownfield, U.S. assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement, recently said illegal drugs trafficking through Venezuela were at an "explosive" rate.

Venezuela's Foreign Office responded this week with a statement saying the Venezuelan government "strenuously rebuts the unwanted remarks of the assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement for being a renewed attack from the Washington government on the Venezuelan people, based on lies and defamation."



"Submarine Near Venezuela Prompts Accusations Against United States"