April 11, 2006

Venezuela blasts US envoy on coup anniversary

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela lambasted the U.S.
ambassador to Caracas on Tuesday for trying to provoke protests
by traveling about Venezuela "like he was in Texas" two days
after President Hugo Chavez threatened to expel him from the

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel joined other officials
to charge U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield with purposefully
inciting angry demonstrations as part of a long-running
campaign by Washington to undermine the Chavez government.

His remarks came on the fourth anniversary of a 2002 coup
during which Chavez was ousted for 48 hours before loyal troops
and supporters helped restore him to power. The left-wing
leader blames Washington for backing the coup.

"We have to be wary when the current ambassador is
dedicated to systematically provoking us, breaching security
regulations and wandering around the country like he's in
Texas," Rangel said at a ceremony to mark the coup.

The U.S. envoy has faced three recent protests during
public events, including last week when Chavez supporters
lobbed eggs and fruit at his car and chased his convoy on
motorbikes after he visited a poor Caracas neighborhood to
donate baseball equipment.

Caracas accuses the embassy of failing to advise his
Venezuelan security detail of his visits, but embassy
representatives charge government officials have sanctioned
recent protests.

Embassy officials say the envoy will continue unintimidated
with his regular visits to charity and community events.

Chavez on Sunday warned he may expel Brownfield. Washington
responded by repeating threats it could restrict the movements
of Venezuela's ambassador in the United States.

Allied with Cuba, Chavez has riled Washington and often
accuses U.S. officials of trying to oust him or invade to
access the country's oil reserves. Venezuela, the world's No. 5
oil exporter, supplies 15 percent of U.S. energy imports.

Washington rejects his charges and relations with Caracas
are tense. U.S. officials accuse him of trying to destabilize
democracy in the region by promoting his self-described
revolution as an alternative to U.S. free-trade proposals.