In an act of solidarity with Bolivia, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy on Sept. 11, one day after Bolivian President Evo Morales had declared Ambassador Philip Goldberg “persona non grata.” Proclaiming that “until there is a government in the United States that respects the people of Latin America, there will be no Venezuelan Ambassador in that country,” Chavez withdrew veteran ambassador Bernardo Alvarez from Washington, just a step ahead of his expulsion.

State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack called the Venezuelan and Bolivian actions a “grave error,” accusing the presidents of inability to deal with internal crises. ‘The only overthrow we seek is that of poverty,” he said.

The U.S. government responded by accusing three high Venezuelan government officials of support for the leftist Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia, alleging cooperation in drug trafficking and arms supply. They are former Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacín (who recently resigned for “personal reasons”), military intelligence head Hugo Armando Carvajal, and civilian intelligence director Henry de Jesus Rangel. Rodriguez Chacín participated in Venezuelan efforts to mediate the release of hostages held by the FARC. Assets of the three men were frozen.

President Chavez also acted in response to an alleged anti-government plot tainted by U.S. complicity. On Sept. 10, Chavez supporter Mario Silva ran an audio recording on his television program La Hojilla on which retired and active duty military officers were heard discussing plans for a coup. They spoke of attacks on an airplane carrying Chavez and bombing the presidential palace.

The report on alleged that retired Defense Minister and former Chavez intimate General Raul Baduel took part in the scheming and that silence from the opposition media suggested ongoing plotting. Some of those accused of involvement have already given statements to investigators, others have been arrested and a few more have left the country. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro informed foreign ministries worldwide that Washington is on a destabilization campaign against Venezuela and Bolivia.

As U.S.-Venezuela relations were deteriorating, Venezuela and Russia were solidifying ties. Russian bombers arrived in Venezuela last week to carry out training exercises. The same day, Chavez spoke of purchasing anti-aircraft defense systems from Russia to complement a $4 billion purchase of fighter planes and helicopters. Navies of the two countries will carry out joint exercises in mid November.

At the same time, in an act of solidarity with both Bolivia and Venezuela, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called off ceremonies set for Sept. 12 to accept Hugo Llorens as U.S. ambassador to his country.

Although Honduras has signed free trade agreements with the United States, the Zelaya government last month announced its decision to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). That alliance, initiated by Venezuela and Cuba and joined so far by Nicaragua, Bolivia, three Caribbean nations and Honduras, bases trade, energy and educational relations on principles of solidarity rather than on market imperatives.

On Aug. 27, President Zelaya recalled for reporters the story of Washington’s request in January 2006, shortly after his inauguration, to grant terrorist Luis Posada a visa. The U.S. was intent upon finding a way to deport Posada on immigration charges to avoid dealing with crimes of murder and terrorism. Zelaya explained, “It was impossible to give a visa to Luis Posada Carriles when he was a person being questioned for acts of terrorism. They defend that type of terrorism, it seems to me.”

The Cuban daily Granma points out that in the mid-1990s, Posada conspired with Honduran military officers and Cuban-born criminals to overthrow or kill Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina.

— W.T. Whitney Jr.