Venezuelan Pro-Chavez Deputy Says U.S. Refuses Visa
Oct 2, 1:03 pm ET
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - A Venezuelan parliament deputy and close political ally of leftist President Hugo Chavez accused the U.S. government on Wednesday of refusing him an entry visa because of his alleged links with international subversive groups.
Tarek William Saab, who is vice president of the foreign policy commission of Venezuela's National Assembly, told local television he was refused a visa because a State Department report identified him as "an individual linked to international subversion."
Saab, who is of Lebanese origin, said he did not know the details of the report, but the Caracas daily El Nacional said it associated him with "Middle East terrorist groups."
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas declined to comment. "We never talk about visa matters," a spokesman told Reuters.
Saab, a prominent member of Chavez's ruling Fifth Republic Movement party who sometimes acts as the government's foreign policy spokesman, condemned the allegations against him as infamy.
"It's an unfriendly gesture against a Venezuelan institution like the parliament," he told Globovision.
The U.S. government has criticized Chavez, a former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and survived a brief coup in April this year, for seeking closer ties with anti-U.S. states like Iraq, Libya and communist Cuba.
The U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Saab came as President Bush was trying to gather support at home and abroad for a military attack against Iraq.
Chavez, who irritated Washington in 2001 by questioning the U.S. anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan, visited Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2000, drawing a public rebuke from the U.S. government.
"They've got me in some black list photo because I embraced Saddam Hussein and shook his hand," the outspoken Venezuelan leader said in remarks to local industry executives on Tuesday.
Chavez has always defended his visit to Iraq as routine consultations between members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Saab, who was allowed to visit the United States several times in 2000 and 2001, said Venezuela's parliament and foreign ministry were pressing Washington to grant him a visa again.