August 28, 2006

Venezuela sends U.S. protest note in cargo spat

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela sent a diplomatic
protest note to the United States as part of a continuing spat
over some diplomatic cargo, Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said
on Monday, in a further sign of tension between Washington and

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas last week said Venezuela had
illegally impounded 20 packages that the United States said
were protected by diplomatic immunity.

But Venezuela said 16 of the 20 packages did not have
diplomatic privilege and described them as "contraband" that
included military equipment.

"For the Venezuelan government, in this incident the
procedures for diplomatic relations laid out in the Vienna
Convention have been violated," the foreign ministry said in a

Embassy officials did not immediately return calls seeking
comment on the statement.

A U.S. Embassy official last week denied that military
goods were part of the embassy delivery, but said some
U.S.-made aircraft equipment that Venezuela had purchased was
on the same plane that delivered the embassy cargo.

A State Department spokesman last week said "the impounded
cargo consisted of household effects of a U.S. diplomat and a
shipment of commissary goods."

Relations between the two countries been tense as the
United States increasingly criticizes President Hugo Chavez's
leftist reform campaign while Chavez slams the United States as
a decadent empire.

Venezuela expelled a naval attach© on espionage charges
earlier this year, leading the United States to expel a top
Venezuelan diplomat in response.

The bag spat started on Thursday with U.S. Embassy accusing
Venezuelan soldiers of illegally impounded some cargo as it was
being transported from the international airport near Caracas
to the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. State Department demanded an
explanation of the incident.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon responded that 16
of the packages had not gone through customs and had not
identified the military equipment they included. Chacon said
the packages included aircraft ejector seats and chicken.