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State Department Urges OAS Mediation in Venezuelan Crisis - 2002-12-07

With political unrest in Venezuela intensifying, the U.S. State Department is appealing for support for Organization of American States mediation efforts, and it is warning Americans to defer travel to the South American country.

A travel warning issued late Friday said the political and security situation in Venezuela has deteriorated since the start of an opposition-led general strike on Monday and that the U.S. government is "gravely concerned" at the potential for an escalation of violence.

The State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Venezuela and said Americans already in the country should "look closely" at their own security situation, and consider whether to depart the country.

Venezuela has been torn by political strife between supporters and opponents of the country's populist president Hugo Chavez, with the general strike aimed at forcing Mr. Chavez to hold an early referendum on his continued rule.

Earlier Friday at a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the domestic crisis in the country appeared to be deepening and he underlined U.S. support for mediation efforts by OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, who earlier this week appeared close to reaching an agreement defusing the situation.

"He has been down there trying to restart dialogue between the government and the opposition and he has gotten agreement from members of both the government's and the opposition's teams to resume talks this morning," said Mr. Boucher. "And we obviously look forward to a more complete, a full dialogue to resume as soon as possible. We think, in the end, that resolving these underlying political issues is necessary in a peaceful, democratic, constitutional manner, building upon electoral proposals that have been made by both sides."

Mr. Boucher downplayed the immediate impact of an announcement Friday by Venezuela's state oil company that the unrest in the country was preventing it from fulfilling export contracts.

Venezuela provides about 13 per cent of U.S. oil imports, but Mr. Boucher said it was premature for the United States to consider appeals to other countries for increased supplies until it becomes clear how the world oil market will react to a Venezuelan cutback.