U.S. ambassador to Venezuela visits U.S. aircraft carrier in Atlantic

The American ambassador to Venezuela visited a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Atlantic as it sailed to the Caribbean for naval exercises, a trip that came just as President Hugo Chavez threatened to expel the diplomat from the country.

U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield met with Gen. Bantz Craddock, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, and other commanders during a two-day visit aboard the USS George Washington that ended Monday, said Jose Ruiz, a spokesman for the Miami-based Southern Command.

"He just wanted to learn more about the operation so he could clarify any misunderstanding about why the carrier strike group is going to the Caribbean," Ruiz told The Associated Press.

The visit came as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to expel Brownfield on Sunday and accused him of trying to provoke confrontations with his government.

It was unclear how the Venezuelan government would view the ambassador's visit to the aircraft carrier. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, however, reiterated Venezuela's stance Tuesday that the U.S. Embassy was deeply involved in a brief 2002 coup against Chavez.

"The coup of April 11 was a coup created by the U.S. Embassy," Rangel said at a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary.

U.S. officials have repeatedly denied involvement and have assured Venezuela they are not plotting to overthrow Chavez. But the U.S. government also has made clear its concern about the health of democracy under Chavez and has called him a destabilizing force in Latin America.

Chavez said Sunday that the ambassador could be expelled after the diplomat ventured into a poor neighborhood where he was met by protesters who hurled tomatoes and eggs at his car and chased after his convoy. Chavez said Brownfield seemed to be trying to stir up trouble, reports the AP.


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