Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned yesterday that he could cut off oil exports to the US if Washington continues trying to destabilise his left-leaning government.
Chavez statements came a day after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Venezuelan government posed “one of the biggest problems” in the region and that its ties to Cuba were “particularly dangerous” to democracy in Latin America.
“The government of the US should know that if they go over the line, they are not going to have Venezuelan oil,” said Chavez, a self-styled ”revolutionary” and close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
“I have already taken measures regarding this. I’m not going to say what because they think that I can’t take these measures because we would not have any place to send the oil. They are mistaken,” he added.
Speaking to government supporters at the presidential palace, Chavez said: “Many countries ask us for more oil and we have had to tell many countries we can’t send them more” because Venezuela – the world’s fifth largest oil exporter – ships 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the US.
Relations between Chavez and the administration of US President George Bush hit new lows in recent days after Washington expelled a high-ranking Venezuelan diplomat in response to Chavez booting out a US embassy official for alleged spying.
Earlier yesterday, Venezuela demanded an explanation from Washington for being labelled one of Latin America’s biggest threats as a visiting US State Department delegation aimed to ease tensions between the governments.
“We are going to ask for an explanation. We’ve already done so verbally,” said Maripili Hernandez, Venezuela’s vice minister for North America.
Hernandez said a written demand was being sent to the State Department asking it to clarify Rice’s comments.
The dispute was addressed during a meeting yesterday between a State Department delegation led by the Director of Andean Affairs Philip French and Venezuela’s National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro, Hernandez said.
The delegation did not immediately respond, she added.
Chavez, a fierce Washington critic, accuses the US government of repeatedly trying to discredit his government and orchestrate his ousting. American officials deny those charges but accuse him of authoritarian tendencies and threatening democracies in the region.
Chavez, who frequently refers to Bush as “Mr Danger”, said US officials would fail in their attempts to turn Latin American nations against Venezuela.
“You create your front Mr Danger, we will create ours,” Chavez said. “We are going to defeat the empire.”
On Thursday, Rice told the House Foreign Relations Committee that Chavez posed a threat to democracy in Latin America and criticised Venezuela’s increasingly close relationship with communist-led Cuba.
“The Chavez government is attempting to influence Venezuela’s neighbours away from democratic processes,” Rice said, adding that the country’s close ties to Cuba were “particularly dangerous” for regional stability.