US expels three Venezuela diplomats

February 26, 2014 - 12:19:49 am

A protester holds a placard in front of national guards near the Cuban Embassy in Caracas yesterday. 

CARACAS: The United States yesterday ordered three Venezuelan diplomats to leave in reprisal for President Nicolas Maduro’s expulsion of three American embassy staff accused of fomenting unrest that has killed at least 13 people.

Disputes between the ideologically opposed governments were common during the 1999-2013 rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez and have continued under his successor Maduro.

When it comes to oil, though, pragmatism trumps politics and the United States remains the OPEC member’s main export market.

The US State Department said in a statement that two first secretaries and a second secretary at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington had been declared personae non gratae in response to Caracas’ February 17 move against the three Americans.

“They have been allowed 48 hours to leave the United States,” it said.

Venezuela and the United States have been without ambassadors since 2008, and Maduro expelled the three last week on accusations of recruiting students to protest against him.

Washington has rejected the claims as baseless.

Despite the latest bilateral spat, however, Maduro plans to nominate a new ambassador to Washington to try to kick-start relations and combat what he sees as propaganda against him.

“US society needs to know the truth about Venezuela,” Maduro said in the latest of his daily speeches to the nation at a meeting with state governors late on Monday. “They (Americans) think we’re killing each other. They think we can’t go out to the corner. They’re asking for US military intervention in Venezuela. What madness! Should that happen, you and I will be out with a gun defending our territory.”

The crisis, in which more than 500 people have been arrested and about 150 injured over two weeks, has brought remonstrations from the US government and attracted wider attention.

Celebrities such as Madonna and Cher have condemned Maduro.

The 51-year-old former union activist, who narrowly won a presidential election to replace Chavez last year, says international media are in league with “imperialists” abroad to project an image of chaos and repression in Venezuela.

Argentine former soccer great Diego Maradona backed that stance while signing a deal to be a commentator for Caracas-based Telesur network at the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.

“We’re seeing all the lies that the imperialists are saying and inventing. I’m prepared to be a soldier for Venezuela in whatever is required,” said Maradona, a friend of both Chavez and Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, before declaring:

“Long live Chavez, long live Maduro, long live Venezuela!” Sporadic protests continued yesterday, with students mounting roadblocks in the more affluent eastern districts of the capital Caracas. In a worrying sign of spreading violence, officials and residents in the provincial cities of San Cristobal, Maracaibo and Maracay all reported looting. REUTERS

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