Venezuela cuts off communication with top U.S. diplomat
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Elias Jaua speaks during a ceremony to honor two Venezuelan diplomats expelled from Washington after Venezuela kicked out two U.S. military attaches, for allegedly conspiring against its government, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. (AP Photo / Fernando Llano)
Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013 3:10PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 20, 2013 10:22PM EDT
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela has halted communication with a top U.S. diplomat in the wake of President Hugo Chavez's death, hardening its anti-U.S. stance ahead of an election next month.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Wednesday that "any type of contact has been postponed" with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who had reportedly reached out to Venezuela's government before Chavez's death.
Jaua specified, however, that diplomatic and consular relations would remain between the two countries. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas had not responded to a request for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
Venezuela's government expelled two military attaches this month for allegedly talking to members of the country's armed forces. Washington responded by ejecting two Venezuelan diplomats, who were honoured by Jaua Wednesday.
The two countries haven't had ambassadors posted in each other's capitals since 2010.
Ahead of an April 14 presidential vote, Venezuelan officials have repeatedly warned the U.S. to not interfere in the country's affairs. Acting leader and government candidate Nicolas Maduro has even accused the U.S. of infecting Chavez with the cancer that killed him and of working with opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
At the same time, Maduro has said former U.S. officials are plotting to kill Capriles in the hopes of fomenting a coup. The U.S. State Department has rejected that accusation while calling for free and fair elections.
On Wednesday, Jaua accused two former U.S. assistant secretaries of state of seeking Central American mercenaries to carry out the supposed assassination plot.
"Hopefully there will be a rectification and the meddling of the United States will cease," Jaua said.
Wednesday's action and the growing accusations mark "a level of paranoia that is very much on the rise," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
"Whether they believe the allegations or are simply using them for political effect, it marks a very troubling turn in the relationship," Arnson said. "And once it's no longer politically useful to whip up fear of imperialism for internal political purposes, what concretely will happen in the relationship?"
Chavez often used anti-U.S. attacks to bolster domestic backing. He was fond of calling the United States "the empire" and famously referred to President George W. Bush as the "devil" at a U.N. General Assembly meeting. U.S. officials did recognize the replacement government that took control after Chavez was ousted briefly in a 2002 coup.
Maduro has repeated many of Chavez's tactics in his electoral bid, down to the hours-long speeches and nationalistic rhetoric.
Recognizing the fragile atmosphere in Venezuela, U.S. officials have pointedly not made comments that could be used for political ends by Chavez's successors, Arnson said.
"The truly bizarre element is that even with staying out, these accusations are surfacing," she said.