After Bolivia, Chavez turns up the steam on the US

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez threatened to halt its oil supply to the US, and gave notice to Washington's ambassador in the country. Earlier, Bolivia and the US respectively expelled their ambassadors over Bolivia's allegations of US interference.



After Bolivia, it’s now Venezuela’s turn to put an end to riotous diplomatic relations with the United States.


“Go to hell, Yankee scum,” a fired-up President Hugo Chavez said before a crowd of supporters on Thursday as he announced the expulsion, within three days, of Washington’s ambassador in Caracas. His words say it all about the venomous state of relations between the two countries.


By imitating his Bolivian ally Evo Morales, who gave notice to the US ambassador in La Paz on Thursday, Chavez reiterated his full support for the beleaguered Bolivian president.


“If oligarchs and Yankee lackeys directed and financed by the (US) empire succeed in toppling a government, we will have a green light to launch whatever is necessary to restore power to the people,” he announced, while inviting Washington to follow suit by giving leave to the Venezuelan ambassador there.


Crisis spreading in Bolivia


The ongoing political crisis plaguing Bolivia lies at the heart of the diplomatic row. Accused of fuelling the autonomist claims of Bolivia’s five richest provinces, the US ambassador in the country, Philip Goldberg, was told to pack his bags and leave the capital within 72 hours.


“The US ambassador is conspiring against democracy and wants Bolivia’s breakup,” Morales claimed, before declaring Philip Goldberg “persona non grata”.


Washington soon retaliated by giving notice to the Bolivian ambassador in the US, Gustavo Guzman.


For the past four days, unrest in Bolivia has brought parts of the country to a standstill. In the province of Santa Cruz, opponents to Morales’ regime have occupied federal government buildings including revenue offices, customs, small airports and an institute for agrarian reform.


On Thursday, at least eight people died during clashes between government supporters and opposition members in the northern province of Pando.


“I don’t see how this is going to end,” Franck Poupeau, a sociologist at the French Institute for Andean Studies in La Paz, told the AFP. “These occupations of public buildings have nothing to do with popular movements,” he explained.


This isn’t the first time government supporters and opponents have been locked in clashes. Morales and five of the country’s nine provincial governors have been at loggerheads for months, and the two camps have now ceased all dialogue.


Anger stoked up by Morales’ constitutional plans  


The central government’s plans for a new Constitution have drawn fierce opposition from the five provinces, who have branded the text as “statist and indigenist”, before unilaterally declaring autonomy. The proposed Constitution grants indigenous people the right to “govern themselves”. It will be submitted for approval by referendum at a date set by Congress.


Plans for a land reform bill have also fuelled the opposition’s ire. The government is targeting large landowners, most of whom live in Santa Cruz province – Bolivia’s richest. The proposed legislation would limit the size of privately-owned holdings to 5,000 or 10,000 hectares.


Evo Morales, boosted by the 67.4% of vote in his favour in the August 10 impeachment referendum, tried to rush his proposed Constitution through. However, it was opposed by four of the five provincial governors, who were also comforted in the referendum.


The government had set an initial date for the constitutional referendum for December 7, but the National Electoral Court cancelled it. It is now up to Congress to set a new date. The Electoral Court has also agreed to check the electoral register after the opposition questioned its validity.


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