Pubdate: Fri, 12 Sep 2008
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A14
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Author: Simon Romero
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela said Thursday
that he was expelling the American ambassador, Patrick Duddy, giving
him 72 hours to leave the country. Mr. Chavez 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 Alvarez, 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..

"When there is a new government in the United States, we'll send an
ambassador," Mr. Chavez said, using an expletive to refer to Americans.

The move by Mr. Chavez 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. Chavez to halt oil exports to the United States, a warning he
reiterated on Thursday.

Mr. Chavez 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. Chavez's plans for military exercises with Russia's
navy in the Caribbean and the safety of Venezuela's airports for
American airlines.

The Chavez 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. Chavez 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. Chavez 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.
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