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Chavez dies; Venezuela expels 2 USAF officers

Mar. 5, 2013 - 02:28PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 5, 2013 - 02:28PM  |  
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Hours before Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died Tuesday, defense officials announced Venezuela expelled two Air Force officers based at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas over allegations of espionage.

The two have been accused of "contacting active members of the military in Venezuela to propose destabilizing projects from within the Bolivarian National Armed Forces," according to the website for the Venezuelan embassy in Washington D.C.

"We are aware of the allegations made by Venezuelan Vice President Maduro over state-run television in Caracas, and can confirm that our Air Attaché, Col. David Delmonaco, is en route back to the United States," Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley said in an email.

The assistant air attaché, Maj. Devlin Kostal, was also expelled, Tingley said. He is currently in the U.S. and will not return to Venezuela.

A State Department spokesman said the U.S. rejects the allegations against the Air Force officers:

"Notwithstanding the significant differences between our governments, we continue to believe it important to seek a functional and more productive relationship with Venezuela based on issues of mutual interest," said Patrick Ventrell, in a statement. "This fallacious assertion of inappropriate U.S. action leads us to conclude that, unfortunately, the current Venezuelan government is not interested an improved relationship.

"An assertion that the United States was somehow involved in causing President [Hugo] Chavez's illness is absurd, and we definitively reject it."

Minutes after Ventrell emailed his statement to Air Force Times on Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press reported that Chavez had died.

Venezuela announced earlier Tuesday that Chavez was suffering a "new and severe infection" following cancer treatment in Cuba.

"We will not permit any foreign intervention in our country," Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said in a statement. "Do not think that the situation of pain over President Chávez's health is going to translate into weakness. Here there is a government and a dignified people, and we do this out of respect for those patriotic and loyal officials that came out and gave testimony regarding the acts of provocation and incitation."

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