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U.S. expelling Venezuelan envoy in response to Chavez

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. move on Venezuelan ambassador follows similar action by Caracas
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelling the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela
  • U.S. Treasury Department also accuses Venezuelans of aiding Colombian rebels
  • U.S. in escalating diplomatic battle with Venezuelan, Bolivian leaders
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is expelling the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States in response to a similar move by Venezuela, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

"We have informed the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States that he will be expelled and should leave the United States," McCormack said.

Separately, the U.S. Treasury Department accused Friday two senior Venezuelan intelligence officials -- Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva -- and one former official -- Ramon Rodriguez Chacin -- of assisting leftist rebels in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, with narcotics trafficking.

"Today's designation exposes two senior Venezuelan government officials and one former official who armed, abetted and funded the FARC, even as it terrorized and kidnapped innocents," said Adam J. Szubin, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, in a statement.

The action freezes assets the three men may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits Americans from conducting business with them.

The U.S. decision to expel the Venezuelan ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, is the latest move in an escalating diplomatic battle that pits the United States against two of Latin America's leftist leaders.

It comes a day after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that he was expelling the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy. Chavez also said he was recalling the Venezuelan ambassador from the United States.

"He has 72 hours, from this moment, the Yankee ambassador in Caracas, to leave Venezuela," Chavez told a crowd of supporters. "When there's a new government in the United States, we'll send an ambassador. A government that respects Latin America."

The president said he was making the moves "in solidarity with Bolivia and the people of Bolivia."

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday accused the United States of fomenting a coup d'etat by rich eastern department landowners against him, and he called for the U.S. ambassador to leave for allegedly encouraging those protesters.

For the past two weeks, the demonstrators in the country's richer eastern lowlands have been protesting Morales' plans to redistribute the country's natural gas revenues.

"Without fear of anyone, without fear of the empire, today before you, before the Bolivian people, I declare the ambassador of the United States persona non grata," Morales said Wednesday of Ambassador Philip Goldberg in a nationally televised speech.

The United States called the allegations baseless and kicked out the Bolivian ambassador Thursday.

The Bolivians "made it very clear what their intention was and we took them at their word," McCormack said Friday. "We take President Chavez at his word in this particular case, and we have reacted appropriately."

Before expelling the U.S. diplomat from his country, Chavez also said Thursday that he had uncovered a U.S.-backed plot to remove him from power.

"It's the empire that's behind this," he told supporters in a televised address. "They go around looking for a way to stop our revolution and, with it, to strike all the processes of change that are occurring in our Americas, in the Caribbean, in Central America."

Chavez then played a four-minute tape of what he said were conversations among current and retired members of the Venezuelan military discussing whom they could count on to support a movement against the presidential palace.

He said also that the presence of two Russian warplanes on Venezuelan soil for a training exercise "is a warning" to the rest of the world that Venezuela's allies include Russia.

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