The United States Department of State announced today that it is expelling the three top Venezuelan diplomats in Washington after Caracas ousted three of their American counterparts on Sunday. The Venezuelan officials, including charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, were given 48 hours to leave the country.
The State Department decision comes in direct response to the expulsion of U.S. charge d’affaires Kelly Keiderling, David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused of conspiring to sabotage the economy, alleging that the diplomats had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down power production. The U.S. embassy immediately denied the allegations.
Maduro gave the U.S. diplomats a 48 hour timeframe to leave Venezuela, saying in a speech in Santa Ana, “Out of Venezuela! Yankees, go home!” A State Department official called the decision out of Caracas “counterproductive to the interests of both our countries and not a serious way for a country to conduct its foreign policy.”
The U.S. and Venezuela have gone without ambassadors in each other’s capitals since 2010, when former President Hugo Chávez denied a visa to would-be American Ambassador Larry Palmer—and the U.S. retaliated by expelling the Venezuelan ambassador to Washington. Borrowing a strategy from his predecessor, Maduro’s decision on Sunday may be an effort to turn Venezuelan’s attention away from the ailing economy, where inflation reached 45 percent, and the availability of basic goods is at a five-year low.