November 11, 2008 / 2:05 PM / 11 years ago

Chavez fires Venezuela's Houston consul in U.S. spat

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday he fired the Venezuelan consul in Houston for violating rules on opening new offices in a move that will likely defuse a controversy after complaints by the United States.

The Houston consulate is important to Venezuela because the town is a hub for much of the OPEC nation’s oil business. Despite frayed ties between the two countries, Venezuela is one of the top crude suppliers to the United States, its biggest customer.

The United States has said it invited Venezuelan personnel to leave the country after a new base for the Houston consulate was set up without receiving appropriate U.S. authorization.

“We removed the consul and cleared the situation up,” Chavez said in an interview on state television, according to a statement from the Information Ministry.

Chavez, who calls capitalism an evil and expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela in September, usually seizes an opportunity to spar with Washington.

But on this occasion, he avoided stoking tensions, blaming his consul for moving without even receiving approval from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington.

Since Democrat Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election last week, Chavez has made overtures to the United States to ease tensions. Although political analysts say there is little hope a thaw would last long, they expect an improvement in the short term as each side seeks to show it is not responsible for the deteriorating ties.

Reporting by Saul Hudson; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Jackie Frank

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