The New York Times
Septembre 12, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Thursday that he was expelling the American ambassador, Patrick Duddy, giving him 72 hours to leave the country. Mr. Chávez took this step after he said his government had discovered an American-supported plot by military officers to topple him.
He also recalled his ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Álvarez, and explained his decision by expressing solidarity with Bolivia's embattled president, Evo Morales, who on Wednesday expelled the American ambassador there, Philip S. Goldberg, accusing him of supporting rebellious groups in eastern Bolivia. The State Department responded by saying it was declaring Bolivia's ambassador to Washington persona non grata.
"When there is a new government in the United States, we'll send an ambassador," Mr. Chávez said, using an expletive to refer to Americans.
The move by Mr. Chávez marks a low point in political relations with the United States, which imported more than $40 billion in oil from Venezuela last year. Trade between the countries has remained resilient, topping $50 billion in 2007, despite repeated threats by Mr. Chávez to halt oil exports to the United States, a warning he reiterated on Thursday.
Mr. Chávez also warned Bolivian opposition groups that he would support an armed resistance movement in Bolivia if Mr. Morales, a close ally, was removed in a coup. Protests in Bolivia intensified Thursday with at least eight people killed in clashes, Reuters reported.
The United States and Venezuela have been sparring over a variety of issues, like claims that Venezuela is growing as a transshipment point for cocaine, Mr. Chávez's plans for military exercises with Russia's navy in the Caribbean and the safety of Venezuela's airports for American airlines.
The Chávez government said Thursday that it would reduce the number of flights by airlines from the United States to Venezuela, which now number about 70 a week, after the Bush administration complained that American inspectors were not allowed to review the security of Venezuelan airports.
The airline issue offers a window into tension over claims of drug trafficking, with news reports here saying that government officials are hesitant to allow inspectors into facilities thought to be used to smuggle cocaine to the United States and Europe.
Mr. Chávez said Thursday that a plot to overthrow and assassinate him had been uncovered and that the Bush administration was behind it. Neither the State Department in Washington nor a spokeswoman at the American Embassy here would comment on the expulsion and the latest charges. On Wednesday night, state television here played what it described as intercepts of phone discussions between active-duty and retired military officers that referred to a plot to take Miraflores, the presidential palace.
Mr. Chávez has claimed at least 26 times in the last six years that there were plots to kill him, according to counts in the local media.