The United States has revoked the visa of the Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, in retaliation for Caracas’ refusal to accept the credentials of U.S. diplomat Larry Palmer as Ambassador to the Latin American nation.

Marking one of the sharpest exchanges of diplomatic barbs between the two countries since the U.S. President Barack Obama came into office, the State Department confirmed on Wednesday night that it had withdrawn the visa granted to Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez.

At a press briefing this week State Department spokesman Mark Toner had warned that while the U.S. regretted the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw “agrément,” or formal approval, for Ambassador Designate Palmer, the move “affects our ability to carry out normal diplomatic relations, and… there could be consequences for that action...”

The trouble began when Mr. Palmer, to the chagrin of the Chavez administration, made comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about low morale in the Venezuelan military and concerns regarding Colombian FARC rebels finding refuge on Venezuelan soil. In August Mr. Chavez announced that he would not be willing accept Mr. Palmer’s appointment.

On December 21 the Caracas U.S. embassy Chargé, Darnall Steuart, received a diplomatic note from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, which formally withdrew permission for Mr. Palmer to function as Ambassador to Venezuela.

Describing Mr. Palmer’s remarks about Venezuela as “blatantly disrespectful,” Mr. Chavez earlier said in a statement, “If the [U.S.] government is going to expel our Ambassador there, let them do it… If they are going to cut diplomatic relations, let them do it.”

The latest episode is the most high-level fracas since nine months of diplomatic stalemate that ended in June 2009. During that period both countries withdrew their Ambassadors over a disagreement about U.S. military bases in Colombia.

While tensions have existed between the U.S. and Venezuela for over a decade, the U.S. still heavily depends on Venezuelan oil, purchasing close to a million barrels of crude from Venezuela every day, according to some estimates.

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