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U.S. revokes Venezuelan ambassador's visa
WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) - The United States revoked the visa of Venezuela's ambassador to Washington in retaliation for President Hugo Chavez's rejection of a nominated U.S. envoy critical of his government, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday.
The move stokes long-simmering tensions between Washington and the socialist Chavez, who is a fierce U.S. critic, but is unlikely to affect an oil trade crucial to both nations.
Chavez had blocked Larry Palmer's arrival after the American diplomat accused Venezuela's government of close ties to leftist Colombian rebels. He also alleged declining morale and professionalism in Venezuela's armed forces.
Caracas's insistence on refusing to let Palmer take up his post prompted Washington to effectively expel Venezuela's envoy, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, by withdrawing his visa, diplomatic sources and the U.S. State Department said.
"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-U.S. diplomat in Caracas.
The South American OPEC member, which is in a second year of recession, sells about 1.2 million barrels per day of oil and products to the United States. That makes Venezuela the fifth biggest U.S. supplier after Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Nigeria.
Although seeking to diversify its export portfolio to sell more to political allies like China, Venezuela cannot now afford to drastically reduce sales to the United States. Threats by Chavez in the past to do so have not materialized.
The spat is, however, sure to add to Chavez's anger over recent U.S. criticism of his assumption of decree powers for 18 months.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Caracas had brought the visa measure upon itself.
"We said there would be consequences when the Venezuelan government rescinded agreement regarding our nominee, Larry Palmer. We have taken appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action," Toner told reporters in an e-mail.
CHAVEZ: "RESPECT US"
There was no immediate reaction from Chavez but U.S.-Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger, who is a close ally of his, condemned the move as unjustified.
"USA revokes the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington in revenge for the decision on Larry Palmer," she was quoted by Venezuelan state media as saying.
"Such cynicism and hypocrisy."
Alvarez was believed to be out of the country on Wednesday.
In a speech Tuesday, the fiery Chavez, who has taken on Fidel Castro's mantle as the leading critic of the United States in Latin America, reiterated his opposition to Palmer.
"We have denied permission to this aspiring ambassador and now the U.S. 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."
There had been hopes of a rapprochement when Chavez cut tirades against the "empire" and shook hands with Obama at a summit soon after the U.S. leader took office in January 2009.
But within months of that, Chavez said Obama was proving to be a disappointment and continuing the unacceptable foreign polices of his predecessor.
Chavez has had a fiery time with U.S. envoys. In 2008, he expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy from Caracas in a dispute over what he said was Washington's involvement in violent protests in Bolivia.
Among his comments to a U.S. senator, Palmer also had expressed concern about Cuba's influence within the Venezuelan military. Chavez is a close ally of Cuba and thousands of Cubans work in Venezuela as doctors, nurses, teachers, technicians and advisers.
(Editing by Bill Trott)
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