Venezuela Denies Not Providing Protection to U.S. Ambassador

Venezuela denied on Sunday that it failed to uphold its obligations under international accords to provide protection for foreign diplomats, after the U.S. ambassador was harassed by supporters of President Hugo Chavez.

Information Minister Willian Lara said U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield did not formally request police protection before his convoy was pelted with eggs by pro-Chavez activists in the streets of Venezuela's capital on April 7.

"We hope there is communication in the future, and there aren't any unfavorable circumstances like that one that occurred" last week, Lara told reporters.

In response to the April 7 harassment, the Bush administration has warned that it may severely restrict the movements of Venezuela's ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez, if pro-government activists in Venezuela engage in any more "thuggish" activities against Brownfield.

"We don't want it to get to that point," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "We want Venezuela to fulfill its obligations under the Vienna Convention to help provide protection for our diplomats there."

Lara said Brownfield met with Venezuela's top diplomat for North America, Mari Pili Hernandez, last week to discuss plans for security coordination.

U.S. officials have said they believe the harassment of Brownfield was not spontaneous, but was planned by government officials.

Chavez, one of Latin America's most outspoken critics of the U.S. government, has threatened to expel Brownfield, accusing him of repeatedly engaging in provocative behavior and meddling in Venezuela's domestic affairs.

Relations between Venezuela — the world's fifth largest oil exporter — and the United States have been tense in recent months with U.S. officials accusing Chavez of becoming a threat to democracy in Latin America and Chavez accusing Washington of conspiring to overthrow his government.