Nightly News   |  March 05, 2013

‘Rough’ times ahead for U.S.-Venezuela relationship

In response to news of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s death, the U.S. released a statement saying, in part, that the U.S. “remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights." For two years, the U.S. has not had an ambassador in Venezuela, the largest exporter of oil in the hemisphere. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> strongman so often preceded his name, and for good reason. tonight, hugo chavez has died after a two-year battle with cancer. the long-time president of venezuela was 58 years old. he was treated for cancer in cuba. he had surgery and chemotherapy over the years. he, in fact, pronounced himself cured a year ago. tonight, as reports of his death spread, chavez supporters took to the street, praying and chanting pro-government slogans. he enjoyed a lot of support, especially among the poor. many venezuelans believed he would survive that. for the past 14 years, chavez has run venezuela as a virtual one-man show. there are a lot of questions tonight about what happens next there of course, all this matters a lot to the u.s., since venezuela sits on top of a lot of oil and that's how this now gets interesting for the united states . our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell is traveling with secretary of state john kerry . tonight, they are in doha, where andrea is with us live. andrea , what about the u.s. piece of this and what's been the early reaction?

>> reporter: well, first of all, we are talking about a $50 billion, billion with a b, two-way trade with the united states , most of it oil. venezuela is the fourth largest exporter to the u.s. of oil and it is the largest exporter of oil in the hemisphere. so, this is a very big deal . we have had no relationship to speak of, as you just said. for two years, we haven't even had an ambassador there. the white house has scrambled and has issued a statement tonight saying at this challenging time of president hugo chavez 's passing, the united states reaffirms its support for the venezuelan people and its interest in developing constructive relationship with the venezuelan government . as venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the white house said, the united states remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles , the rule of law and respect for human rights . there is supposed to be, under the constitution of venezuela , another election in 30 days . chavez was only sworn in on january 10th . he was re-elected in october. so, this does reopen the possibility for the opposition, but the designated heir is the vice president and the vice president certainly signalled today that he does not want a better relationship. only today, he expelled two u.s. diplomats, accusing them of spying and also said that the u.s. was responsible for chavez 's is cancer. so that tells you that we do have some rough sledding ahead. brian?

>> andrea mitchell in the middle east from doha, traveling with the secretary of state tonight. andrea , thanks.