Chavez offers olive branch to US 'gringos'

Venezuela is seeking to improve diplomatic relations with the United States despite long-standing tensions with Washington, President Hugo Chavez said.

Venezuela is seeking to improve diplomatic relations with the United States despite long-standing tensions with Washington, President Hugo Chavez said.

Mr Chavez said he gave Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Arias Cardenas permission to seek a meeting with US officials in Washington to discuss forging better bilateral relations.

“Arias Cardenas asked for authorisation to meet with an emissary from the US government, and I gave it to him,” said Mr Chavez, speaking during a programme broadcast on the local Televen television channel.

“We want to talk, so there’s a possibility of easing tensions.”

Mr Chavez did not explain what prompted his decision to try to improve relations just weeks after he accused the US of planning to invade his country.

But he also criticised US humanitarian efforts in Haiti.

“It appears the gringos are militarily occupying Haiti,” Mr Chavez said. “Obama, send medicine, doctors and water – not more soldiers.”

Officials at the US Embassy in Caracas could not be reached for comment. There was no immediate reaction from the US State Department or the White House.

Mr Chavez has accused the United States and Colombia of spying on Venezuela and conspiring to topple his “revolutionary” government.

Tensions were exacerbated by a recent agreement between Washington and Bogota granting US troops expanded access to Colombian military bases.

Last week, Venezuela made a diplomatic protest to the US, saying a US military plane recently violated its airspace.

John Caulfield, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Caracas, denied the accusation, saying a US military aircraft has not strayed into Venezuelan airspace since 2008, when the US acknowledged what it called an accidental incident involving a navy plane.

Meanwhile, US officials criticised what they call Venezuela’s failure to effectively fight drug trafficking.

But even as he talked peace, Mr Chavez seemed to fan the flames with his neighbour, Colombia, for allowing greater US military presence in the region.

The US says its soldiers in Colombia will be used only to help Colombian President Alvaro Uribe fight drug trafficking and rebels.

With “the election of Obama and the Democrats in Congress, Uribe began to fear he’d lose the support that he had from (George W.) Bush, and he dropped his pants due to the fear of losing the backing of the United States,” Mr Chavez said in the same interview.

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