Venezuela slams U.S. as discord over envoy deepens

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela slammed U.S. plans to appoint an ambassador rejected by Caracas, saying on Saturday that Washington’s statements on the matter were consistent with its policy of aggression against the South American country.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during a meeting with United Socialist party members in Caracas, December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Miraflores

The latest dispute came a day after Venezuelan lawmakers voted to let socialist President Hugo Chavez bypass parliament and rule by decree for 18 months. That move was denounced by opposition rivals and the U.S. State Department as autocratic.

The row over newly nominated U.S. envoy Larry Palmer has simmered since August, when Chavez said he would not be allowed to take up his post because the diplomat had criticized the former soldier’s leftist government.

Last week, a senior U.S. State Department official, Arturo Valenzuela, said Palmer’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate was expected in the coming days, according to media reports.

“The Venezuelan government rejects the most recent statements ... noting that they ratify the historic line of interventionism and aggression against the Venezuelan people, their institutions and democracy,” it said in a statement.

“On repeated occasions we have made it known to the U.S. government that, because of the gravity of Palmer’s actions, it is impossible for us to accept him,” it said.

The United States’ insistence on naming the ambassador amounted to “a new provocation and demonstration of the hypocrisy of the elite that governs that country,” it added.

Palmer triggered outrage in the Chavez administration when he told a U.S. senator that morale was low in the Venezuelan military and that there were clear ties between members of the country’s government and FARC rebels in neighboring Colombia.

His comments came at a particularly sensitive time after Bogota accused Caracas of sheltering the leftist guerrillas on Venezuelan soil. Chavez denied the allegations and briefly cut diplomatic ties with Colombia over the row.


In a televised speech later on Saturday, Chavez said Valenzuela believed he was “the king of Latin America,” and that the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks had revealed the United States’ nefarious intentions around the world.

“Wherever you see a North American ambassador, you see a conspirator, an intriguer, a spy, and all those who work with him,” Chavez said. “So raise a coffee from me and toast Senor Palmer. Bye bye!” he added, saluting the camera.

He then told his foreign minister to seize the U.S. envoy if he arrived at Venezuela’s international airport.

Chavez has taken on Fidel Castro’s mantle as the leading critic of Washington in Latin America. He had initially said he hoped for better relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, but that quickly soured and the leftist leader now uses the same disparaging rhetoric about the U.S. government as before.

The United States is the top buyer of Venezuela’s oil, but the prospects of any diplomatic detente look increasingly remote after parliament’s move to award Chavez wide-ranging decree powers.

He says he needs them to deal with the fallout from floods that have forced nearly 140,000 Venezuelans from their homes.

But outraged opposition parties accuse him of taking South America’s biggest crude producer down an increasingly radical path and turning the OPEC member into a dictatorship.

Supporters of the president say he is simply redressing years of imbalance and that he has actually encouraged democracy by giving power and funds to grass-roots groups.

Venezuela’s National Assembly, which is dominated by loyalists from his Socialist Party, has been rushing through a package of laws to entrench his self-styled “revolution” before more opposition lawmakers are sworn in next month.

After Chavez asked parliament for the decree legislation last week, a U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington believed he was subverting the will of the people and “finding new and creative ways” to justify autocratic powers.

Editing by Eric Walsh