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Hugo Chávez oil threats: Why Chávez won't cut off oil to the US

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez threatened to cut off oil to the US on Sunday. The latest Chávez oil threat comes amid a rising diplomatic spat with neighboring Colombia, a staunch US ally in the region.

By Staff writer / July 26, 2010

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez addresses a meeting of United Socialist Party (PSUV) in Caracas July 25. Chávez threatened on Sunday to cut oil supplies to the United States in case of a military attack from Colombia as a dispute escalated over charges his country harbors Colombian rebels.

Miraflores Palace/Reuters

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As Latin American leaders rush to defuse tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, severed last week over new allegations that Venezuela is harboring leftist guerrillas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is seeking to cast attention much farther north.

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On Sunday Mr. Chávez threatened to cut oil supplies to the US, should a military attack come from Colombia.

“If there was any armed aggression against Venezuela from Colombian territory or from anywhere else, promoted by the Yankee empire, we would suspend oil shipments to the United States, even if we have to eat stones here,” Chávez said Sunday. “We would not send a drop more to US refineries.”

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This is not the first time that Chávez has threatened to cut off oil to the US, or charged the US and Colombia of plots to attack Venezuela, but most analysts have discarded the threats as empty. Although Venezuela has expanded its trading relationship with Asia, the US is still its main oil customer. Venezuela sends the US about a million barrels a day, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

“This has been said so many times, it has lost its weight,” says Elsa Cardozo, an international relations expert at the Universidad Metropolitana in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. “The US is so important to Venezuela for energy exports, the idea would be suicidal.”

Regional tensions rise

Tensions between Venezuela and Colombia have grown over the years, but just as Colombian President Álvaro Uribe – a key US ally in the region – is set to leave office, the relationship hit another low.

Last week, Colombia presented evidence to the Organization of American States (OAS) alleging that some 1,500 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels are currently in Venezuela. Chávez denied the allegations and immediately cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia in retaliation.

Venezuela has warned Colombia over aggression in the region in the past, particularly after Colombia launched a raid on Ecuadorean soil in 2008 on a FARC camp, killing FARC leader Raúl Reyes. Chávez then put his military on high alert, sending troops to the border its shares with Colombia. And after a plan last year was revealed to allow US military access to Colombian bases, Chavez warned of a possible US attack from South American soil.

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