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US Envoy: Relations with Venezuela Tense

By Associated Press

May 6, 2004, 11:15 PM EDT CARACAS, Venezuela -- Relations between the United States and Venezuela, strained by President Hugo Chavez's criticism of U.S. foreign policy, remain difficult, U.S. Ambassador Charles said Thursday. He said that there was a consensus among officials in Washington, regardless of their political leanings, regarding frequent political unrest in Venezuela and a possible vote on Chavez's rule.

"I don't think there's much difference between the two majority parties," said Shapiro, who will soon step down after a two-year assignment in Venezuela.

Shapiro was responding to questions by reporters regarding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's assessment of Venezuela's conflict.

"Democracy is at risk" in Venezuela, Kerry said in an interview this week.

Kerry and the Bush administration have endorsed the presidential recall referendum as the best means of settling Venezuela's deepening political conflict. Kerry has accused Chavez of trying to hinder opposition efforts to hold the recall.

Washington resents Chavez's increasingly close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro, his criticism of U.S.-led negotiations for a free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere and verbal insults targeting Bush.

Chavez, a left-wing firebrand who was re-elected to a six-year term in 2000, has repeatedly accused the United States of being behind a failed coup in 2002 and of supporting current efforts to topple his government.

Washington, which initially blamed Chavez for his own downfall, denies all allegations.

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