The US has revoked the visa of Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington in apparent retaliation for Caracas’ rejection of the nominated US envoy, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.
The move brings to the fore long-simmering tensions between Washington and the socialist government of President Hugo Chavez, who is the main US critic in the region. The flare-up, however, is unlikely to affect an oil trade crucial to both nations.
Chavez blocked Larry Palmer’s arrival after the US accused the Venezuelan government of close ties to leftist Colombian rebels. Palmer also alleged declining morale and professionalism in Venezuela’s armed forces.
“It’s politicking as usual between these two but I don’t think we’re about to see a crude crisis. They both need to keep exports flowing,” said a non-US diplomat in Caracas.
In a second year of recession, the South American OPEC member sells about 1.2 million barrels per day of oil and products to the US, making it the fifth biggest US supplier after Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Nigeria.
The spat is, however, sure to add to Chavez’s anger over recent US criticism of his assumption of decree powers for 18 months.
While the US State Department declined to comment on the -diplomatic feuding, state media quoted Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Temir Porras as confirming the visa measure.
US-Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger, who is a close ally of Chavez and an unofficial spokeswoman for him, was also quoted as confirming the measure.
“USA revokes the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington in revenge for the decision on Larry Palmer,” she was quoted as saying. “Such cynicism and hypocrisy.”
In a briefing earlier on Wednesday, another State Department spokesman repeated the US position that Venezuela could suffer consequences because of its objection to the selection of Palmer.
“We believe that it’s precisely because there’s tension in the relationship, that it’s important to maintain diplomatic communications at the highest level,” the spokesman said.
In a speech on Tuesday, the fiery Chavez, who has taken on former Cuban president Fidel Castro’s mantle as the leading critic of the US in Latin America, reiterated his opposition to Palmer.
“We have denied permission to this aspiring ambassador and now the US government threatens us with reprisals,” he said.
“They will do what they want but that man is not coming here as ambassador. Anyone who comes here as an ambassador has to show respect. This is a country that must be respected,” Chavez said.
There had been hopes of a rapprochement when Chavez cut tirades against the “empire” and shook hands with Obama soon after he took office, but within months, Chavez said Obama was proving to be a disappointment.