WASHINGTON (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dared the U.S. to expel his ambassador in retaliation for his move to reject the U.S. envoy to the South American country.
On Wednesday, that's just what the Obama administration did.
Chavez issued his dare a day earlier, saying he would not allow the U.S. diplomat, Larry Palmer, to be ambassador because the U.S. official made what Chavez described as blatantly disrespectful remarks about Venezuela.
"If the government is going to expel our ambassador there, let them do it," Chavez said, adding, "If they're going to cut diplomatic relations, let them do it."
U.S. diplomats familiar with the situation said the decision to revoke Bernardo Alvarez Herrera's visa came after Chavez's decision to withdraw his approval of Palmer. The diplomats said Alvarez is currently not in the U.S.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Palmer, who is awaiting Senate confirmation, angered Chavez by suggesting earlier this year that morale is low in Venezuela's military and that he is concerned Colombian rebels are finding refuge in Venezuela.
Chavez, whose economy relies heavily on oil sales to the United States, has accused Palmer of dishonoring the Venezuelan government by expressing concerns on several sensitive subjects — including 2008 accusations by the U.S. Treasury Department that three members of Chavez's inner circle helped Colombian rebels by supplying arms and aiding drug-trafficking operations.
"For an ambassador to come, he has to respect this homeland," Chavez said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said late Wednesday that the U.S. has taken "appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action."
Department officials also addressed the diplomatic standoff in their daily briefing Wednesday.
"We believe it's in our national interest to have an ambassador in Caracas so that we can candidly express our views and engage with the government of Venezuela," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "There are tensions in the relationship, and it's precisely because of that that we feel that it's important to have appropriate diplomatic relations."
"Now the U.S. government is threatening us that they're going to take reprisals. Well, let them do whatever they want, but that man will not come," Chavez said Tuesday.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been without an ambassador since Patrick Duddy finished his assignment and left in July.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.
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**This is an abridged version of the original AP article**