Renteria's cartel was accused in a 2004 indictment of shipping about 500 tons of cocaine into the US since 1990.

The Norte del Valle cartel was Colombia's last major well-organised drug gang, although its command structure was less centrally controlled than its forerunners, the Medellin and Cali cartels.

Anti-drug efforts

Renteria is the second alleged drug cartel leader to be arrested in Venezuela within the last month. On June 24, authorities seized Luis Frank Tello, another alleged drug lord.

US and Colombian officials accuse Chavez's government of lax anti-drug efforts, including allowing Colombian drug lords and guerrillas to operate on Venezuelan territory.

A report released last month by the United Nations' office of drugs and crime identified Venezuela as the departure point for more than half of all sea shipments of cocaine headed for Europe.

"Many undocumented air flights leave the South American country, and all the clandestine air shipments of cocaine detected in West Africa appear to have originated in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela," the report also said.

Chavez denies that his government is lax on drug traffickers, arguing that the US and Colombia have made the accusations for political reasons.

US officials have said Chavez's efforts have become more bullish in recent months, perhaps because he realises the national security threat posed by drug-related corruption. 

Salvadorian 'terrorist'

In a separate case, Venezuela plans to extradite a Salvadoran 'terrorism' suspect to Cuba.

After being interrogated by Venezuelan authorities, Francisco Chavez Abarca will be sent to Cuba in connection with attacks on a hotel and a disco on the island in 1997, Chavez and his ministers have said.

"This terrorist has said that he came here to commit a series of attacks to provoke upheaval leading up to [an] election on September 26," Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela's justice minister said.

The socialist policies of Hugo Chavez have angered some businessmen and other political groups in Venezuela.

Chavez has accused them of trying to topple his government through violence, a charge the political opposition denies.