US sanctions Chávez aides in growing crisis

The United States escalated a major diplomatic crisis with Venezuela on Friday, imposing sanctions on aides to President Hugo Chávez in retaliation for his expulsion of the US ambassador.

The crisis and Chávez’s threat to cut off oil shipments to the US plunged relations between the superpower and one of its top energy suppliers to their lowest point in years.

Washington was also preparing to eject Venezuela’s top diplomat in the US, a US official said, although Chávez tried to pre-empt that move by telling him to pack his bags and go home on Thursday.

Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East, and despite Chávez’s clashes with the Bush administration, he has maintained oil supplies and never before expelled a US ambassador.

Chávez said Thursday’s move was made in support of his leftist South American ally, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, where violent anti-government protests have killed eight people. Bolivia and the United States expelled their respective ambassadors, too, this week after Morales accused Washington of supporting the opposition.

Chávez said he would not restore relations with the United States at least until his stated foe, US President George Bush, leaves the White House in January.

“When there is a new government in the United States we will send a new ambassador, a government that respects the people of Latin America,” he said late on Thursday.—Reuters


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