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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.
"Any contact that had been established has been deferred," he said, adding that routine diplomatic contacts such as consular relations would continue.
Jacobson told Spain's El Pais newspaper last week that Venezuelans deserved a free and fair election, adding that this "includes a free press, which we haven't seen in recent years."
Relations between Washington and Chavez were strained during his 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.
Polls show Chavez protégé Nicolas Maduro, currently acting president, ahead of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
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 and Doina Chiacu)