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Venezuela's Chavez Threatens to Cut Off US Oil
CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States if it were to back a Colombian military attack on Venezuela, warning Washington to stay out of the fray.
Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with Bogota Thursday in response to charges by President Alvaro Uribe that 1,500 Colombian guerrillas had set up camp inside Venezuela and were launching attacks from its territory.
The firebrand leftist president said on Sunday he had intelligence that "the possibility of an armed aggression against Venezuelan territory from Colombia" was higher than it has been "in 100 years."
If Colombia were to launch an attack "promoted by the Yankee empire, we would suspend oil deliveries to the United States, even if everybody over here has to eat stones," he warned.
"We wouldn't send even a single drop of oil" to the United States, he said.
The United States is the number one consumer of oil from Venezuela, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and South America's largest oil producer and exporter.
Chavez, who has been highly critical of a US-Colombian military base deal struck last year, called the United States "the great instigator" behind Venezuela's current conflict with Colombia.
About 20,000 Venezuelan troops deployed along the 2,000-kilometer (1,250-mile) border with Colombia have been placed under "maximum alert," according to military officials.
The United States on Friday threw its support behind its key ally Colombia in its latest row with Venezuela, calling Chavez's decision to sever diplomatic relations with Colombia and put border troops on alert "a petulant response" to Bogota's accusations.
Chavez on Sunday hinted at a possible easing of tensions with Colombia when president-elect Juan Manuel Santos replaces Uribe on August 7.
But in an op-ed piece published in several newspapers, the Venezuelan leader warned that his country "must get clear and unambiguous signs that Colombia's new government has real political will to resume the path of dialogue."
Santos, who is on a tour of Latin America, has refused to comment on the crisis, referring the matter to the outgoing president.
Venezuela "will present a peace proposal to Colombia" at Thursday's meeting in Quito of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said.
Chavez also announced Sunday he would cancel a planned trip to Cuba in light of the crisis.
He had been due to attend Monday in Havana the 57th anniversary of Fidel Castro's rebel attack on the Moncada barracks that kicked off the revolution that brought him to power in 1959.
Venezuela's exports to the United States are almost entirely comprised of oil. Last year oil exports alone reached 27.12 billion dollars, accounting for 96.5 percent of all products exported to the United States.
However that was a steep drop compared to 2008, when the South American country exported 51.40 billion dollars worth of goods to the United States, the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and Industry said earlier this year.
US imports in Venezuela also decreased in 2009, coming in at 9.36 billion dollars -- 27.7 percent less than the previous year.
In 2008, total trade between the two countries had reached a historical high of 64 billion dollars with the bulk of that amount -- 76.4 percent -- corresponding to oil sales.
Oil accounts for around 90 percent of revenue in Venezuela, South America's top exporter of crude oil.