Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela's Chavez warns he may stop oil exports to US


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned on Friday that he could cut off oil exports to the US if Washington continues trying to destabilize his left-leaning government.

Chavez statements came a day after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Venezuelan government posed "one of the biggest problems" in the region and that its ties to Cuba were "particularly dangerous" to democracy in Latin America.

"The government of the United States should know that if they go over the line, they are not going to have Venezuelan oil," said Chavez, a self-styled "revolutionary" and close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

"I have already taken measures regarding this. I'm not going to say what because they think that I can't take these measures because we would not have any place to send the oil. They are mistaken," he added.

Speaking to government supporters at the presidential palace, Chavez said "many countries ask us for more oil and we have had to tell many countries we can't send them more" because Venezuela -- the world's fifth largest oil exporter -- ships 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the US.

Relations between Chavez and the administration of US President George W. Bush hit new lows in recently after Washington expelled a high-ranking Venezuelan diplomat in response to Chavez booting out a US embassy official for alleged spying.

Earlier on Friday, Venezuela demanded an explanation from Washington for being labeled one of Latin America's biggest threats as a visiting US State Department delegation aimed to ease tensions between the governments.

"We are going to ask for an explanation, we've already done so verbally," Maripili Hernandez, Venezuela's vice minister for North America said.

Hernandez said a written demand was being sent to the State Department asking it to clarify Rice's comments.

The dispute was addressed during a meeting on Friday between a State Department delegation led by the Director of Andean Affairs Philip French and Venezuela's National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro, Hernandez said.

The delegation did not immediately respond, she added.

Chavez, a fierce Washington critic, accuses the US government of repeatedly trying to discredit his government and orchestrate his ouster. US officials deny those charges but accuse him of authoritarian tendencies and threatening democracies in the region.

Chavez, who frequently refers to Bush as "Mr. Danger," said US officials would fail in their attempts to turn Latin American nations against Venezuela.

"You create your front Mr. Danger, we will create ours," Chavez said. "We are going to defeat the empire."

On Thursday, Rice told the House Foreign Relations Committee that Chavez posed a threat to democracy in Latin America and criticized Venezuela's close relationship with Cuba.

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