CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's government has halted lines of communication established by a top U.S. diplomat to protest what it says has been U.S. interference in the country's internal affairs ahead of an election set next month to replace the late President Hugo Chavez.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said in a news conference Wednesday that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson had violated Venezuela's sovereignty despite reaching out to the South American country's government before Chavez's March 5 death.

He accused Jacobson of supporting opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, although he didn't provide any evidence.

Wednesday's action and the growing accusations mark "a level of paranoia that is very much on the rise," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"Whether they believe the allegations or are simply using them for political effect, it marks a very troubling turn in the relationship," Arnson said. "And once it's no longer politically useful to whip up fear of imperialism for internal political purposes, what concretely will happen in the relationship?"

Recognizing the fragile atmosphere in Venezuela, U.S. officials have pointedly not made comments that could be used for political ends by Chavez's successors, Arnson said.

"The truly bizarre element is that even with staying out, these accusations are surfacing," she said.

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