Chavez threatens to cut off oil to U.S.

Saturday, February 18, 2006; Posted: 4:59 a.m. EST (09:59 GMT)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has warned he could cut off oil exports to the United States if Washington goes "over the line" in what he has said are attempts to destabilize his left-leaning government.

Chavez made his threat Friday, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Venezuelan government posed "one of the biggest problems" in the region and that its ties to Cuba were "particularly dangerous" to democracy in Latin America.

"The government of the United States should know that if they go over the line, they are not going to have Venezuelan oil," Chavez said.

"I have already taken measures regarding this. I'm not going to say what because they think that I can't take these measures because we would not have any place to send the oil," Chavez said.

Chavez has threatened to halt oil exports to U.S. ports before, but Friday was the first time the former paratroop commander mentioned having made contacts with other crude buyers as part of a contingency plan.

"Many countries ask us for more oil and we have had to tell many countries we can't send them more" because Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, ships 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the United States, he told supporters at the presidential palace.

Relations between Chavez and the Bush administration hit new lows in recent days after Washington expelled a Venezuelan diplomat in response to Chavez's expulsion of a U.S. embassy official for alleged spying.

Venezuela on Friday also demanded an explanation from Washington for being labeled one of Latin America's biggest threats as a visiting State Department delegation aimed to ease tensions between the governments.

Chavez has repeatedly accused the U.S. government of trying to discredit his government and orchestrate his ouster. American officials deny those charges but accuse him of authoritarian tendencies.

Chavez, who refers to President Bush as "Mr. Danger," said U.S. officials would fail in their attempts to turn Latin American nations against Venezuela.

"You create your front Mr. Danger, we will create ours," Chavez said. "We are going to defeat the empire."

Chavez said Rice's statements were aimed at creating chaos and political upheaval in this oil-rich yet poor South American nation ahead of presidential elections in December.

Chavez, who was elected to a six-year term in 2000, has vowed to win the next election and govern until 2013 -- or longer.