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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 03:33 GMT 04:33 UK
Venezuela marks coup anniversary
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

Venezuela's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel
Jose Vicente Rangel blames the CIA for the 2002 coup attempt
Venezuelans have been commemorating the fourth anniversary of a failed military coup against President Hugo Chavez.

The government accuses Washington of orchestrating the coup from which Mr Chavez returned after just 48 hours.

Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel unveiled a memorial in Caracas to remember the victims of violence during the days of the coup.

More than 15 people died during large scale protests which led to Mr Chavez's brief departure from power.

However, the exact figure of how many protesters died is still being disputed to this day.

Relations are now worse than ever due to Mr Bush being in office
Jose Vicente Rangel

Since April 2002, relations between Washington and Venezuela have gone from bad to worse with the two governments barely on speaking terms.

Yet in an exclusive interview with BBC News, Vice-President Rangel, said: "On a scale from zero to ten, zero being the worst, I would say our relations are now around five, just about average."

"Only five because George Bush resides in the White House. Relations are now worse than ever due to Mr Bush being in office. Before he came along, we had better relations with the US."

Mr Rangel, like his other colleagues in government, firmly believes the US government was behind the April coup against President Chavez.

He blames the CIA for providing the funding and the organisation needed to stage the attempted takeover of power.

'Not popular'

A fresh diplomatic spat between the US state department and the Venezuelan government has broken out in the past week.

The row centres on the US ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, being harassed by supporters of Mr Chavez, who pelted his convoy with tomatoes, eggs and onions.

However, the Venezuelan vice president made it clear that Ambassador Brownfield had an obligation to report his planned activities to the Venezuelan authorities.

He said: "The ambassador never tells us about his movements and whereabouts when he's travelling.

"It's important that he does this for his own security. As a representative of the Bush administration, the ambassador isn't a popular person in this country."

When asked whether this was an obligation under the terms of the Vienna Convention which governs the rules for diplomats around the world, Mr Rangel said that the ambassador was not bound by international rules to do so but by the norms of Venezuela.

The vice-president warned that if Mr Brownfield continued "his deliberate provocations in Venezuela" he would face expulsion from Venezuelan territory.

Uranium denial

Mr Rangel said that in the long run he did not rule out recalling Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, for consultations.

"Recalling an ambassador for consultations is really nothing special nor is it a big deal," Mr Rangel said.

The US has on several occasions criticised Venezuela's public support for Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

There has even been press speculation in the US suggesting that Venezuela is selling uranium deposits to Iran.

"It's completely false to suggest that we have uranium deposits in Venezuela. It's wrong to say we are excavating these deposits for enrichment purposes," Mr Rangel insisted.

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