The last statement is most troubling.
CARACAS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelled the US envoy to Caracas late Thursday and threatened to halt crude exports to the United States on a day he highlighted the recent arrival of two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers.
Chavez on Thursday ordered US ambassador Patrick Duddy to leave the country within 72 hours, in a move he described as an act of solidarity with Venezuela’s ally Bolivia, which also expelled its US envoy.
“Starting at this moment the Yankee ambassador in Caracas has 72 hours to leave Venezuela,” Chavez said at a public event in the port city of Puerto Cabello, 120 kilometres west of Caracas.
He said it was “in solidarity” with the leftist government of President Evo Morales in Bolivia, which on Wednesday ordered the US ambassador to La Paz to leave. Washington late Thursday expelled Bolivia’s ambassador to the United States.
Chavez then threatened to halt the supply of oil to the United States, its main client, if Washington attacks his government.
“If there is any aggression towards Venezuela” from Washington, “there would be no oil for the people of the United States,” said Chavez, who used coarse expletives to disparage the US government.
Chavez also announced Thursday that his government had uncovered a coup plot hatched by active and retired military officers, which he said had tacit US approval.
A military prosecutor said two officers — retired general Wilfredo Barroso and retired major Elimides Labarca Soto – will be tried for incitement to rebellion, a charge punishable by five to 10 years in prison.
At least eight other officers were detained in connection with the plot and were being interrogated, the prosecutor said.
Venezuelan public television aired a recorded conversation allegedly between three high-ranking retired military officers discussing plans to storm the presidential palace in Caracas, target Chavez, and blow up the presidential airplane.
“We have already detained several people,” Chavez said.
“Look, pitiyanquis, don’t even think of launching a coup or some madness such as this. I warn you, I am not the Hugo Chavez of 2002,” he said, referring to a failed coup attempt against him in April of that year, when he was briefly ousted for two days before mass protests saw him freed and return to power.
Chavez, a former paratroop officer, headed a failed coup attempt himself in 1992. He was elected president in 1999.
“I have no doubt at all that the United States is behind plans to bomb this palace,” Chavez said, warning that “difficult times” lied ahead for Venezuela.
The anti-US leader frequently alleges assassination and coup plots against him, usually pointing the finger at the United States.
Chavez said those behind the latest plot were part of the country’s “desperate political opposition” and “the American empire” led by US President George W. Bush.
Earlier in the day Chavez said the presence of two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers in Venezuela is a “warning” to the US “empire,” as he announced another coup plot against him had been foiled and suspects arrested.
“It’s a warning. Russia is with us… we are strategic allies,” said Chavez. “It is a message to the empire. Venezuela is no longer poor and alone.”
Chavez had announced Wednesday that two Russian bombers were in Venezuela for “training flights” and that he would be piloting one of the aircraft himself.
“I hope that stings, ‘pitiyanquis’,” he said, using a derogatory term for Venezuelan opponents who have perceived US sympathies.
“What’s more, I’m going to take the controls of one of these monsters,” boasted the president, a former paratrooper and left-wing politician who has avowed antagonism towards the United States.
The United States said it would monitor the deployment of the two Russian bombers, which it described as “Cold War era assets,” to Venezuela.
The moves came amid soaring tensions between Russia and the United States, including over the presence of US naval vessels sent close to Russian shores to deliver aid to Georgia.
Russia said Monday it was dispatching a nuclear cruiser and other warships and planes to the Caribbean for the joint exercises with Venezuela – the first such manoeuvres in the US vicinity since the Cold War.