U.S. and Venezuela Threaten to Punish Each Other’s Ambassadors

In an escalating dispute involving the throwing of eggs at the car of the US ambassador to Venezuela, the U.S. threatened to limit the Venezuelan Ambassador’s U.S. travels and Chavez threatened to expel the U.S. ambassador entirely.

Caracas, Venezuela, April 10, 2006—In the latest symptom of increasingly tense relations between Caracas and Washington, Venezuelan officials have criticized US Ambassador William Brownfield’s behavior in the wake of his car being hit by protestors with eggs and threatened to expel him if he continues to provoke. 

“Mr. Brownfield wants to act as though he’s the poster-child of the barrios, like an official provocateur, throwing aside the Vienna Convention which outlines the diplomatic behavior in the countries where they represent their governments,” Communications Minister Willian Lara told El Nacional. 

The latest rift began last Friday, when Brownfield went into a low income pro-Chavez stronghold to deliver sports equipment. After leaving, his three-car entourage was followed by a group of motorcyclists, who pounded on the cars, and threw eggs and vegetables.  

According to the Embassy, a lone police car was following the embassy convoy, but did nothing to stop the incident. “The motorcyclists were throwing things at us for at least 10 minutes, and the police did nothing,” said Brian Penn, a spokesperson for the embassy, according to the AP. “It was serious.” 

Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, accused the local Venezuelan government of being involved in this, and three other protests against Brownfield, saying that local government officials gave out snacks to those involved in the incident at the stadium prior to the confrontation.  

The Caracas mayor’s office denied participation.   

McCormack said that the Venezuelan ambassador to the US had been warned of “severe diplomatic consequences” if a similar incident occurs again, saying that Venezuelan had run afoul of international law in failing to prevent the incident. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez responded to this threat on his weekly TV show. “So this doesn’t repeat itself, it’s you guys there [in the US], Mister Danger [Chavez’s nickname for US president George Bush], who need to give clear instructions to your ambassador, that he has become a provocateur,” he said.  

McCormack today threatened to restrict the movement of the Venezuela’s ambassador, without giving specifics.   

Venezuelan officials initially reacted with a degree of diplomacy towards the attack. Alcides Rondón, Venezuela’s acting Foreign Minister, said that the embassy should have better informed Venezuelan authorities of Brownfield’s travel plans, and that there are some places in the country where the ambassador might not be welcome, but that “The Venezuelan government and people condemn any act of protest that crosses the limits of respect and consideration…and especially those acts that work against the authority and dignity of diplomatic representatives.”  

After the US’s threat of diplomatic consequences, however, Venezuelan officials became more aggressive. “If you want to continue provoking us, get ready to pack your bags, because I’m going to kick you out of here,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his weekly TV show. He also criticized Brownfield’s visit to the area, saying that it was demagoguery to give away balls and gloves. 

The embassy has said that Brownfield has a right to travel and that they will not be intimidated.