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US-Venezuela row heats up, US revokes envoy visa

US-Venezuela row heats up, US revokes envoy visaWASHINGTON: Diplomatic tensions between Washington and Caracas were rising as President Hugo Chavez rejected a newly appointed US ambassador and Venezuela’s envoy had his US visa revoked.

Only hours after the US State Department said Wednesday it wanted to maintain diplomatic links with Caracas, deputy Venezuelan foreign minister Temir Porras said on his Twitter account: “I can confirm. USA revoked the visa of ambassador Bernardo Alvarez.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry later confirmed Porras’s statement in an email to reporters.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner in Washington said the visa revocation was in response to Chavez’s rejection of President Barack Obama’s ambassadorial appointment in Caracas.

“Yes, we said there would be consequences when the Venezuelan government rescinded the agreement regarding our nominee Larry Palmer. We have taken appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action,” Toner told AFP.

Earlier, the State Department had refused to say whether it was prepared to expel Alvarez, who is on vacation in Venezuela, but it reiterated last week’s warnings of possible “consequences” over Chavez’s rejection of Palmer.

The revocation of the diplomatic visa means Alvarez will not be able to enter the United States, but does not imply that he is being formally expelled from Washington. A US visa can be revoked and reinstated just as quickly.

The two countries are long-time political adversaries, and US-Venezuela ties have been strained in recent years. Chavez has repeatedly denounced “American imperialism” and cultivated ties with US bugbears, including Cuba, Syria and Iran.

But on Wednesday, hours prior to Porras’s tweet, the United States said it was important to maintain ties with Venezuela.

“Our position remains that we believe it’s in our national interest to maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela,” Toner had told reporters a day after Chavez issued a startling challenge.

On Tuesday, Chavez dared Washington to “cut off diplomatic relations” over his opposition to Obama’s nominee Palmer, who was highly critical of Chavez during his US Senate confirmation hearings.

“If the (US) government wants to expel our ambassador there, let them! If they cut off diplomatic relations, let them,” Chavez said on state television.

Palmer’s appointment is still awaiting Senate confirmation.

Obama in June appointed Palmer to replace Patrick Duddy as ambassador to Caracas.

From September 2008 to June 2009, Washington and Caracas withdrew their ambassadors as diplomatic relations reached a low point over US military bases in Colombia.

Chavez in August announced he would “veto” Palmer’s appointment over his comments during his Senate confirmation hearing that Venezuela harboured leftist guerrillas from Colombia and that the Venezuelan military was under Cuban influence and low in morale.
“For an ambassador to come here, he must respect this country…I would lack dignity if I allowed that gentleman to come to Venezuela,” Chavez said at the time.

The United States buys one million barrels of Venezuelan crude oil a day and has admitted its relations with Caracas are the rockiest in the region.

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