Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez dares United States to cut diplomatic ties
CARACAS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dared the United States to expel his ambassador or cut off diplomatic ties in retaliation for his rejection of Washington's choice for ambassador to Caracas.
Tensions have been growing over Chavez's refusal to accept American diplomat Larry Palmer and also over U.S. criticisms of a legislative offensive by the president's congressional allies. Lawmakers have granted Chavez expanded powers to enact laws by decree for the next year and a half, a change that opponents condemn as antidemocratic.
Chavez has said he will not accept Palmer to be ambassador due to comments he made earlier this year suggesting that morale is low in Venezuela's military and that he is concerned Colombian rebels are finding refuge in Venezuela.
The U.S. State Department has said it stands behind its nomination of Palmer, who is awaiting Senate confirmation. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said last week that Venezuela's decision to reject Palmer - after initially giving consent - will have consequences on relations with Caracas, and that the U.S. government will evaluate what to do. "If the government is going to expel our ambassador there, let them do it!," Chavez said in a televised speech Tuesday night. "If they're going to cut diplomatic relations, let them do it!"
"Now the U.S. government is threatening us that they're going to take reprisals. Well, let them do whatever they want, but that man will not come," Chavez said.
There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, which has been without an ambassador since Patrick Duddy finished his assignment and left in July.
Chavez, whose economy relies heavily on oil sales to the United States, has accused Palmer of dishonoring the Venezuelan government by expressing concerns on several sensitive subjects - including 2008 accusations by the U.S. Treasury Department that three members of Chavez's inner circle helped Colombian rebels by supplying arms and aiding drug-trafficking operations. "For an ambassador to come, he has to respect this homeland," Chavez said. -Ap
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