The United States is throwing out the charge d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington and two other diplomats from the Andean nation, the State Department said.
Charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega, embassy Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida, stationed at the Venezuelan Consulate in Houston, were given 48 hours to leave the country.
The move follows Venezuela’s expulsion of the U.S. charge d’affaires in Caracas, Kelly Keiderling, and two other American diplomats for allegedly aiding saboteurs.
Relations between the United States and Venezuela have remained at the level of charge d’affaires since late 2010, when Caracas rejected the proposed U.S. ambassador and Washington retaliated by expelling the Venezuelan envoy.
“It is regrettable that the Venezuelan government has again decided to expel U.S. diplomatic officials based on groundless allegations, which require reciprocal action,” the State Department said.
The department had earlier rejected Caracas’ claims of “U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the expulsion of the U.S. diplomats during a speech on Monday, accusing them of providing funds to members of Venezuela’s “extreme right.”
The right-wing elements used that money to finance sabotage of Venezuela’s electric grid, the president said, alluding to recent widespread power blackouts in the oil-rich Andean nation.
Ties between Caracas and Washington soured during the 1999-2013 presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, a vehement critic of U.S. foreign policy who was Maduro’s mentor and predecessor.
An effort to normalize bilateral relations collapsed in July after Maduro’s government took umbrage at comments made by the then-prospective U.S. representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Power told senators she would contest “the crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.”