US: Venezuela scuttles visit by congressmen
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – A group of U.S. congressmen
was forced to abandon an official visit to Venezuela on Monday
after local authorities refused to allow them to leave their
aircraft in Caracas, U.S. officials said.
The five lawmakers, led by Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, who
chairs the House International Relations Committee, and
Democrat Rep. Tom Lantos, left Venezuela after officials kept
their U.S. Air Force jet on the tarmac for an hour without
allowing them to disembark, a U.S. Embassy official said.
“We regret that the government refused to allow them to
leave the plane causing the cancellation of the visit,” he
said. The official had no details on why the group would have
been refused permission to get off the plane.
A Venezuelan Foreign Ministry official had no immediate
comment or details about the incident. But airport authority
chief Jose David Cabello dismissed the accusations and said the
U.S. delegation made no effort to contact authorities.
“The government offered all the collaboration that was
previously agreed,” Cabello told state television news.
The lawmakers were on a previously scheduled visit to meet
with Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel and members of the
Venezuelan National Assembly, a U.S. official said.
Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, is one of the
top suppliers of crude to the U.S. market. But political
relations between Washington and Caracas have been strained
since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to office in 1998.
A close ally of U.S. foe Cuba, Chavez has promised to bring
a socialist revolution to Venezuela’s poor. He often accuses
Washington of plotting to overthrow his government to gain
access to the country’s huge oil reserves.
U.S. officials dismiss those charges as populist rhetoric
meant to please his powerbase among the poor. But they warn the
left-wing former army officer is becoming an authoritarian
threat to Venezuela’s democracy and a menace to regional