Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he is recalling his ambassador from Washington.
The move comes less than a day after Bolivia’s leftist president, Evo Morales, ordered the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday to leave the country, blaming him for intensified opposition protests that shut down a natural gas pipeline to Brazil.
A State Department spokesman in Washington said Morales’ accusations were “baseless” and that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz had not received any request for Ambassador Philip Goldberg to quit the South American nation.
Morales, who is a close ally of Venezuela’s fiery leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, frequently lashes out at Washington and previously accused Goldberg of siding with his rightist opponents in a power struggle gripping Bolivia.
“The ambassador of the United States is conspiring against democracy and wants Bolivia to break apart,” Morales, a former coca farmer, said in a speech at the presidential palace in the Andean city of La Paz.
Morales said he had asked his foreign minister to send a letter to the embassy telling Goldberg to “urgently return to his country” — a decision applauded by Chavez, who accuses Washington of backing a failed 2002 coup against him.
“The same thing is happening in Bolivia, it’s the imperial aggressor, the genocidal U.S. empire,” Chavez said in a speech.
Morales’ opponents concentrated in resource-rich eastern regions have stepped up protests against his leftist reforms in recent days, storming public buildings and attacking facilities linked to the impoverished nation’s key natural gas industry.
Protesters occupied public buildings for a second day on Wednesday in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold and Bolivia’s economic hub.
They want a bigger share of state energy revenues to stay in their region, Bolivia’s richest, as well as greater autonomy from the central government in La Paz.