CARACA - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday named as defense minister General Henry Rangel Silva, who the United States has described as a "drug kingpin" linked to cocaine smuggling from neighboring Colombia.
The socialist Chavez, who calls the United States a decadent empire bent on exploiting developing countries, has repeatedly denied US accusations that his government has turned a blind eye to drug trafficking.
"This good soldier, this humble soldier ... this fighter for the people, today I publicly designate him as the new defense minister of the Republic," Chavez said during a televised religious ceremony.
He is expected to shuffle his cabinet in the coming days to pave the way for several of his current ministers to run in regional elections later this year.
In 2008, the US Treasury Department accused Rangel and another high-ranking officer of materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of Colombia's FARC rebels. Both men deny any wrongdoing.