US, Venezuela at odds on ambassador, Chavez powers
VENEZUELA: Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela flared over Washington's nominee for ambassador Saturday as President Hugo Chavez warned that the diplomat would be detained and put on the next flight home if he tries to set foot in the country.
For months Chavez has been warning that President Barack Obama's nominee, Larry Palmer, would not be welcome under any circumstances due to critical remarks he made about the Venezuelan government. During his Senate confirmation process, Palmer suggested that morale is low in Venezuela's military, and also expressed concern about Colombian rebels finding refuge in Venezuela.
"He went ahead and said whatever he felt like saying, disrespecting Venezuela, a group of honorable generals ... the government, the Venezuelan constitution," Chavez said in a televised speech. "How is he going to be ambassador? He disqualified himself."
Chavez chuckled as he addressed Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, saying Palmer must be stopped if he attempts to fly into Caracas' international airport, in nearby Maiquetia. "If he arrives at Maiquetia, grab him, Nicolas, grab him," Chavez said. "Give Mr. Palmer a coffee from me, and then 'bye-bye.' He cannot, he cannot enter this country."
The U.S. State Department has insisted it stands behind Palmer as the best candidate for the job. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said Thursday that if the Senate confirms Palmer as ambassador, he will soon be sent to Caracas. "With Palmer's arrival to Venezuela, we see an effort of both countries to try to establish a more fluid dialogue," Valenzuela told reporters in a conference call. "It has to be frank, because we won't be in agreement on some things."
Chavez, whose economy relies heavily on U.S. oil sales, initially expressed optimism that under Obama years of hostility between Venezuela and the U.S. could ease, but the tensions have persisted.
Chavez says the Obama administration has continued to try to undermine his government. State Department officials have increasingly voiced concerns about threats to personal freedoms and democracy in Venezuela. The U.S. government has been strongly critical of decree powers granted to Chavez on Friday by his congressional allies, shortly before a new National Assembly takes over next month with a larger opposition contingent capable of hindering approval of some types of laws. -Ap