Venezuela expels three US diplomats

February 18, 2014 - 7:03:56 am
CARACAS: Venezuela ordered the expulsion of three US diplomats yesterday on charges of recruiting university students to lead demonstrations that have left three dead in the OPEC nation’s most serious violence since President Nicolas Maduro’s election in April.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said the three consular staff had used visa visits to universities as cover for promoting opposition protests by students, adding they had 48 hours to leave the country.

The demonstrations, which have energised the opposition but show few signs of ousting President Nicolas Maduro, continued yesterday with scattered protests in Caracas and various provincial cities. “They have been visiting universities with the pretext of granting visas,” said Jaua, who often faced off against police during his own days as a student demonstrator.

“But that is a cover for making contacts with (student) leaders to offer them training and financing to create youth groups that generate violence,” he told reporters.

US embassy officials were not immediately available to comment. Venezuela has routinely expelled US diplomats in recent years as the relationship between the two countries frayed during the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

Maduro ousted three diplomats in October on charges of stirring up labour protests, and also expelled two others in 2013 on the day Chavez died of cancer.

Critics pass off such moves as theatrics used in times of national commotion to distract from more serious issues. Student demonstrators have promised to stay in the street until Maduro resigns, though the 51-year-old former bus driver has vowed not to cede even a “millimeter” of power.

He has urged his own supporters to drown out the protests with dance and song in the streets.

The Caracas protests have been limited to mostly upscale areas, and there has been no evidence that Venezuelans could join them en masse or that Maduro could be forced from power.

Small demonstrations early yesterday blocked the main avenues of several upscale neighbourhoods of Caracas.

A group of students in Caracas were marching toward the headquarters of the state telecommunications agency, which has come under fire since the government’s decision last week to remove a Colombian station from cable television. REUTERS