WASHINGTON – Venezuela's top diplomat took his government's case against the United States on Wednesday to the Organization of American States (search), indirectly accusing Washington of repeatedly violating Venezuelan sovereignty.
Without mentioning the United States by name, Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez Araque said his government's intelligence agencies have evidence suggesting an attempt to "liquidate physically" President Hugo Chavez (search).
Last week, Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro (search) directly accused the United States of trying to assassinate the Venezuelan leader. The State Department called the allegations ridiculous.
Rodriguez also alluded United States, Rodriguez cited the "cunning attack" on the Venezuelan oil industry in December 2002 when Chavez's opponents tried — but failed — to bring down his government through strikes.
The Bush administration has denied any involvement.
Rodriguez, who formerly headed the state-owned oil company in Venezuela, noted during his half-hour speech that the OAS charter forbids intervention by any member country in the internal affairs of another. He did not urge that the OAS take action on his allegations.
Rodriguez was appointed foreign minister last November. It is normal for the 34-member OAS to invite new foreign ministers to speak to the OAS permanent council.
After his speech, Rodriguez shook the hand of each OAS ambassador. Only the U.S. ambassador, John Maisto, engaged Rodriguez in conversation.
Maisto, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, told a reporter later that he asked Rodriguez to meet with William Brownfield, who assumed his duties as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela last August.
Rodriguez has declined thus far to meet with Brownfield but, according to Maisto, the Venezuelan promised that a meeting would be arranged.
As a measure of the frozen state of U.S.-Venezuelan relations, Brownfield has sought appointments with all 18 Venezuelan cabinet ministers but has met with only one.
Asked for his reaction to Rodriguez's speech, Maisto said, "We've heard it all before."
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated steadily since Chavez took office as the elected president in February 1999.
Chavez has accused the United States repeatedly of efforts to destabilize his government. For its part, the Bush administration is uneasy about Chavez's intimate ties with Castro and his perceived efforts to silence the Venezuelan media and his political opponents.