- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WASHINGTON | The Obama administration revoked the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States on Wednesday in a tit-for-tat diplomatic response to Venezuela’s rejection of the U.S. choice to be the next envoy to the South American country.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday dared the U.S. government to expel his ambassador, saying he will not allow the U.S. diplomat, Larry Palmer, to be ambassador because he 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.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said late Wednesday that the U.S. has taken “appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action.”

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 officials addressed the diplomatic standoff in the agency’s 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.”

Toner said the U.S. regrets the Venezuelan government’s decision to block Palmer’s appointment, saying, “It affects our ability to carry out normal diplomatic relations.”

Venezuelan-American lawyer and activist Eva Golinger, who is editor of the English edition of the Venezuelan government newspaper Correo del Orinoco, said on Twitter on Wednesday night that the U.S. had revoked Alvarez’s visa in an “act of vengeance, provoking a diplomatic rupture.”

Golinger said the U.S. government brought about the situation “through dirty maneuvering.”

The State Department has been strongly critical of decree powers granted to Chavez by his congressional allies this month, a maneuver Crowley described as one more way for the leftist president to “justify autocratic powers.”

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