President Hugo Chavez says Venezuela will expel U.S. Navy officer accused of spying |

President Hugo Chavez says Venezuela will expel U.S. Navy officer accused of spying

CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that Venezuela is expelling a U.S. Navy officer for allegedly passing secret information from the Venezuelan military to the Pentagon and warned he will throw out all U.S. military attaches if further espionage occurs.He also accused Navy Cmdr. John Correa of encouraging Venezuelan officers to consider overthrowing his government, which weathered a brief coup in April 2002.The U.S. Embassy denied any of its military attaches had done anything wrong.Venezuela’s accusations of espionage, which began last week, have heightened tensions in an already rocky relationship between Washington and Chavez’s government. Chavez, whose nation is a major supplier of oil to the United States, is an outspoken critic of U.S. economic policies.”We have declared the United States Navy commander named John Correa persona non grata. He should leave the country immediately,” Chavez said in a nationally televised speech celebrating the seventh anniversary of his government.”We warn the imperial government of the United States that if their military attaches in Venezuela continue to do what this commander has been doing, they will be detained, and the next step would be to withdraw the whole so-called military mission of the United States,” he added, drawing cheers and applause from an audience of several thousand.The U.S. Embassy received a letter from Venezuela on Tuesday asking Correa to appear before military prosecutors and on Thursday got another letter ordering him to leave the country, embassy spokeswoman Salome Hernandez told The Associated Press.”None of the military attaches at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas was or is involved in inappropriate activities,” she said, adding that embassy has 21 military personnel in Venezuela while Venezuela has about 65 military officers working in the United States.U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield said the communique from Venezuela’s government only accused Correa of conducting himself in a way that did not conform to international agreements.”We have not received any communication from the government that explains the reason” for the expulsion, Brownfield told Venezuelan TV channel Globovision.Neither Hernandez nor the ambassador commented on whether Correa was still in Venezuela.The case surfaced last week when Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said an undisclosed number of active and retired Venezuelan military officers were caught passing information to the Pentagon.Chavez’s announcement Thursday marked his government’s sharpest accusations yet, and was the first time Correa was mentioned publicly by name.Chavez said he had evidence the naval attache met with a group of Venezuelan officers to drum up support for a coup attempt modeled after the 1989 U.S. military invasion of Panama that deposed leader Manuel Noriega.Chavez has repeatedly accused the U.S. government of spying and plotting to oust him. American officials have denied that, but increasingly express concerns about the health of democracy under Chavez.In Washington, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said in congressional testimony Thursday that Chavez “is seeking closer economic, military and diplomatic ties” with North Korea and Iran, whose nuclear programs have provoked grave concern in the U.S. government and elsewhere.Negroponte made the comments while testifying about a broad review of the threats, opportunities and challenges the United States faces internationally.At the ceremony marking the anniversary of his government, Chavez expressed confidence that he will win re-election in December, urging supporters to mobilize for a landslide victory.Chavez criticized the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, John Maisto, for comments Wednesday questioning the openness of Venezuela’s recent congressional elections.He said Maisto’s comments were part of a U.S. plot to “sabotage the electoral process using its internal lackeys” in an effort to discredit the results of the presidential election when he wins.Chavez was expected to travel to Cuba later Thursday to meet with close friend Fidel Castro and accept UNESCO’s 2005 International Jose Marti Prize on Friday.Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper, Granma, said Cuba planned a gathering of more than 200,000 people Friday in Revolution Plaza in Chavez’s honor.”I’m not going to receive it for me, rather for all of you, for the Venezuelan people, that’s why I’m going to Havana,” Chavez said.Vail, Colorado

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