Sunday, January 11, 2009

Venezuela's Chavez investigates US official


President Hugo Chavez said Saturday he may expel a top U.S. Embassy official for allegedly plotting against his government from Puerto Rico.

Venezuela's socialist leader said he has information that leaders of the political opposition were meeting with U.S. advisers in Puerto Rico to discuss how to prevent a referendum on term limits from passing.

"I'm investigating the possible presence of a U.S. Embassy official in Caracas at this meeting," said Chavez, without naming the official. "If I confirm it, I will throw him out of the country.

The referendum — which may take place as early as February — could allow Chavez to run for re-election indefinitely.

Embassy spokeswoman Robin Holzhauer said the mission's Charge d'Affaires in Caracas, John Caulfield, recently visited Puerto Rico for a wedding. Caulfield is the Embassy's top envoy following Chavez's expulsion of U.S. ambassador Patrick Duddy in September.

"He wasn't there for any sort of clandestine meeting," she said. "The trip had no relation to anyone or anything in Venezuela."

Chavez said the purported meeting is "one more demonstration of how the empire uses Puerto Rico as a base to conspire against the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean."

"One day, Puerto Rico needs to be liberated," he said.

Chavez expelled Duddy in solidarity with Bolivia, which also booted its U.S. ambassador, accusing him of aiding violent protests. The U.S. denied the allegations.

Last week, Chavez ordered Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Cohen to leave the country along with embassy personnel to protest Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

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