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US expels Venezuelan diplomat as Ahmadinejad makes Latin America tour

Venezuela's consul general to Miami was expelled today amid accusations that she assisted with a cyberattack – coordinated by Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela – against the US. 

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Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, called for hearings on the alleged plot.

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The Venezuelan government dismissed the Univision report as false and uncorroborated. “They are using a lie as an excuse to attack us,” President Hugo Chavez said in December, calling on allies to be on guard. 

Lessons learned from George W. Bush’s first term in office show a confrontational approach to Chavez is not effective, says Mr. Shifter, because criticism "gave Chavez greater ammunition for his own political agenda.”  

“Any kind of real confrontational posture towards Venezuela will only help Chavez, as it has in the past,” Shifter says. But Obama, he adds, is under pressure from Congress and the Republican presidential candidates to take action on the perceived strengthening ties between Iran and some Latin American countries. Mr. Ahmadinejad plans to attend President Daniel Ortega's inauguration in Nicaragua tomorrow, another event that prompted outcry from some US politicians.

Chavez, who is also running for reelection this year, frequently paints the United States as an imperialist adversary set out to destroy his socialist government.

“He sees himself as a victim of the [US] empire,” says Shifter.  “The US doesn’t want to feed him any new material.”

The request for Ms. Noguera to leave the US within 72 hours could serve as fodder for Chavez’s verbal attacks on US policy, and a reciprocal expulsion of diplomatic staff on behalf of Venezuela can’t be ruled out, Shifter says.

Neither the US nor Venezuela have hosted each other’s ambassadors since 2008, when Mr. Chavez charged American Ambassador Patrick D. Duddy with backing a plot to overthrow him in a military coup. The US removed its ambassador in response, heightening tension between the two nations.

Venezuela has had a strong geopolitical alliance with Iran since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.  “Both countries want to curtail US power,” says Mr. Shifter, “and they both get benefits out of provoking the United States.”

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