Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dared the US 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 US diplomat Larry Palmer and also over Washington’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 anti-democratic.
Chavez has said he will not accept Palmer to be ambassador because of 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 US 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 US 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 on Tuesday night. “If they’re going to cut diplomatic relations, let them do it! Now the US government is threatening us that they’re going to take reprisals. Well, let them do whatever they want, but that man will not come.”
There was no immediate reaction from the US Embassy in Caracas, which has been without an ambassador since Patrick Duddy finished his assignment in July.
Chavez, whose economy relies heavily on oil sales to the US, has accused Palmer of dishonoring the Venezuelan government by expressing concerns on several sensitive subjects — including 2008 accusations by the US Treasury Department that three members of Chavez’s inner circle helped Colombian rebels by supplying arms and aiding drug-trafficking operations.