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By Mario Naranjo
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has cut off an informal channel of communication with the United States because of comments by a State Department official about next month's presidential election, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.
The OPEC nation established contact last year with Roberta Jacobson, the senior U.S. diplomat for Latin America, to improve bilateral ties after years of tensions.
But Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that was now on hold after Jacobson's recent statements about the April 14 election to replace the late president, Hugo Chavez.
"With Jacobson's latest comments ... we have realized that it doesn't make sense to continue wasting our time," Jaua said during a ceremony to honour two Venezuelan diplomats expelled from Washington in a tit-for-tat dispute.
"Ms. Jacobson inadvertently said something that's true, which is that her candidate is Henrique Capriles," he said, referring to Jacobson's interview with Spain's El Pais newspaper last week.
He appeared to be referring to a segment of the interview in which she was asked about if Capriles could win.
She responded: "Anyone can win ... Capriles could be a very good president, but we do not have a favourite."
Relations between Washington and Caracas were strained during Chavez's 14-year rule by a constant war of words, the frequent expulsion of diplomats, and ideological clashes over issues ranging from free trade to the drug war.
Venezuela's acting president, Nicolas Maduro, on Sunday accused the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency of plotting to kill his opposition rival Henrique Capriles and trigger a coup ahead of the election.
The United States denies the charge.
Polls show Maduro, Chavez's chosen successor, leading Capriles by a sizeable margin.
On the day of Chavez's death on March 5, Venezuela expelled two U.S. diplomats on charges of attempting to conspire with the Venezuelan military. Washington responded in kind.
(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Doina Chiacu and Eric Walsh)