February 4, 2006

Chavez warns U.S. over refineries if cuts ties

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez warned on Saturday he could shut his government's
U.S.-based refineries and sell oil to nations other than the
United States if Washington decided to cut diplomatic ties, as
relations between the two countries continue to worsen.

Chavez said he did not want to take such measures after he
expelled a U.S. military attache earlier this week on spying
charges and Washington responded by ordering out a Venezuelan
diplomat in a tit-for-tat retaliation.

"If the U.S. government wants to break relations, then they
have to take that decision over there, over there. I could
easily order the refineries we have over there closed," Chavez
told a large crowd of supporters.

"We'll see how high oil prices go, we'll see how much a
gallon of gas will cost. I could easily sell the oil we sell to
the United States to other countries," he said. "We don't want
to get to that extreme, we want them to leave us in peace.

Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, supplies about
15 percent of U.S. petroleum imports. Venezuelan state oil firm
PDVSA also operates refineries and gas stations in the United
States through its Citgo refining and retailing arm.

Washington has made no suggestion that it plans to cut off
relations with Venezuela.

Since his 1998 election, Chavez has clashed repeatedly with
the United States, which he accuses of trying to overthrow his
government and backing a brief 2002 coup attempt that he
survived with the help of loyal troops.