Pentagon says Venezuela a 'destabilizing force'
* Southern Command head cites Venezuela 'anti-U.S. stance'
* He previously saw no link between Chavez and FARC
* Venezuela says general's reversal politically motivated
By Anthony Boadle
WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - The chief of the U.S. military's Southern Command said on Thursday that Venezuela's socialist government is a "destabilizing force" in Latin America and continues to back leftist guerrillas in Colombia.
General Douglas Fraser's comments in congressional testimony came a week after he told a U.S. Senate hearing that the Pentagon had no evidence of a "government-to-terrorist" connection between President Hugo Chavez's government and Colombian FARC rebels.
Southern Command is responsible for U.S. military activities in much of Latin America.
Fraser, testifying to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said Venezuela remains a threat to U.S. interests.
"They continue to have a very anti-U.S. stance and look to try and restrict U.S. activity wherever they have the opportunity to do that," Fraser said.
"They are continuing to engage with the region ... and continuing to pursue their socialism agenda. ... They remain a destabilizing force in the region," the general said.
Fraser said Venezuela continues to provide the FARC a safe haven and "financial logistical support" based on information found on a laptop computer of a FARC commander seized by Colombian soldiers during a raid on a guerrilla camp in Ecuador in 2008.
Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said the reversal of the general's position, to conform with statements by officials in the Obama administration, showed the United States has no proof of Venezuelan support for the FARC and the criticism was politically motivated.
During a recent tour of Latin America, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped up criticism of Chavez, a populist leader who is the fiercest opponent of U.S. influence in the region even though his country is a major supplier of oil to the United States.
Alvarez said the data on the computer cited by Fraser had been "manipulated" to cook up accusations against Venezuela that are aimed at justifying the deployment of U.S. troops to bases in Colombia, the main U.S. security ally in the region.
"The Obama administration is continuing the aggressive policy against Venezuela of the Bush administration," Alvarez said in an interview.
"They cannot accept a government with a different ideological perspective in this hemisphere," he said.
Venezuela is among the five main oil suppliers to the United States and is its second-leading trading partner in Latin America after Mexico.
Alvarez said the ideological hostility between the two governments has not affected Venezuelan oil supplies to the United States. "Venezuela has no interest in reducing the oil trade," he said.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, editing by Will Dunham)
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