September 12, 2008
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez on Thursday gave the U.S. ambassador 72 hours to leave the country after Washington expelled Bolivia's ambassador in retaliation for the expulsion of the American ambassador in La Paz the previous day.
''In response to unwarranted actions and in accordance with the Vienna Convention (on diplomatic protocol), we have officially informed the government of Bolivia of our decision to declare Ambassador Gustavo Guzman persona non grata,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The three-way diplomatic confrontation comes amid increasing violence in Bolivia and accusations by both South American countries of U.S. involvement with groups that oppose the leftists governments.
Chávez said his decision to boot U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy was in solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales -- a key ally -- who expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
Both Chávez and Morales have accused Washington of seeking to overthrow their leftist governments, and Bolivia is in the throes of a crisis over autonomy moves by several provinces, in which Morales claims the U.S. government has been involved.
At least six people were killed as anti-government protesters fought backers of Morales on Thursday in Bolivia's pro-autonomy east with clubs, machetes and guns, the Associated Press reported.
Chávez also threatened to cut off oil supplies. If there is any American ''aggression towards Venezuela,'' he said, ''there'll be no oil for the American people.'' Venezuela supplies more than a tenth of U.S. oil imports.
In La Paz, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters that he formally had requested Goldberg's expulsion but added that he also wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to say that Bolivia ''wishes to maintain bilateral relations,'' AP reported.
A share of U.S. aid to Bolivia goes to eastern provincial governments that are the focus of opposition to Morales, which has angered the Bolivian president and his supporters.
Goldberg met last week with Rubén Costas, one of Morales' most virulent opponents. Costas is governor of Santa Cruz, Bolivia's richest province and the seat of a pro-autonomy revolt against the nation's first indigenous president.
The State Department also said the Morales government has asked Drug Enforcement Agency employees to leave a base camp in the coca-growing region of Chapare ''because they could no longer protect them.'' State Department employees left too, department said, AP reported.
''We are disappointed that 25 years of working side by side with our counterparts at the Bolivian special counternarcotics police has been disrupted in this manner,'' the State Department said in a statement.
Chávez also said Venezuela would respond militarily if Morales were overthrown or killed.
Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, is to be withdrawn, and the position will not be occupied until President Bush leaves office, Chávez said.
Announcing his decision, at a rally of his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela Thursday evening, Chávez -- not for the first time -- used vulgar language to refer to the United States.
''Go to hell, Yankees,'' he shouted. ``That's enough s___ from you!''
Duddy had been warned in August that he might soon be ''packing his bags,'' after the United States and Venezuela once again exchanged strong words over the latter's alleged failure to cooperate in counter-narcotics operations.
Earlier Thursday, Chávez had accused ''the empire'' (a term he uses for the United States) of being behind an alleged coup plot, revealed Wednesday night on an official government tv channel.
The plot, involving retired military officers up to the rank of general, supposedly involved a plan to bomb the presidential palace in Caracas and kill the president.
The government says it is questioning several people, and that at least two have been charged. Others, said Chávez, have apparently left the country.
It is unclear why the host of the TV program, which broke the story, who is a leading member of the government party, chose to possibly alert the coup-plotters by broadcasting the material before they had been arrested.