Venezuela slams US as discord over envoy deepens

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

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 US State Department as autocratic.

The dispute over newly nominated US 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 US State Department official, Arturo Valenzuela, said Palmer’s confirmation by the US 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 US 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 US 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 neighbouring 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.

At the time, the Venezuelan president said Palmer had “ruled himself out” by “breaking all the rules of diplomacy.”

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 US President Barack Obama, but that quickly soured and the leftist leader now uses the same disparaging rhetoric about the US 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.

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