CARACAS – Three U.S. diplomats denounced by President Nicolas Maduro for allegedly fomenting anti-government violence have 48 hours to leave Venezuela, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Monday.
He identified the three as Vice Consuls Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Elsen Gordon and Clark Christopher Lee.
“All these officials are obligated to leave the sovereign and independent homeland of Venezuela in the next 48 hours for actively participating in the organization and the promotion of these groups that today are trying to create violence in our country,” the foreign minister said.
Earlier today, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that they had not yet received notice. "Regarding recent reports involving the expulsion of U.S. officials in Venezuela, the United States has not received any formal notification," said Psaki.
"The allegations that the United States is helping to organize protestors in Venezuela is baseless and false," said Psaki. "We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world. But as we have long said, Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. We urge their government to engage all parties in meaningful dialogue."
Jaua had aserted that diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas have been organizing and promoting the organization of anti-government student groups as well as providing financial support through “front organizations.”
“A program has been developed within the heart of the universities in the last quarter of 2013 and beginning of ... 2014 by consular officials (who) ... have devoted themselves to going around to universities under the pretext of programs for the authorization of visas,” Venezuela’s top diplomat said.
Three people were fatally shot and more than 60 wounded last week in clashes arising from marches to protest violent crime, product shortages and the policies of Maduro’s leftist government.
The Venezuelan government accuses opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez of those incidents and has issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of murder and terrorism, along with other acts of violence that have been occurring every night in eastern Caracas.
Washington has expressed concern about the warrant for Lopez and denies any interference in Venezuelan politics. The documents Jaua read from all appear to be old documents released by Wikileaks back in 2010, with the dollar amounts changed to make them seem more substantial.
In October, Maduro announced the expulsion of 3 US diplomats during a live speech to Venezuela soldiers commemorating 200 years since the day when Atanasio Girardot died fighting for Venezuela's independence. At that time, Maduro accused US diplomats Kelly Keiderling, who was the charge d'affaires and the top US diplomat in the country, Elizabeth Hoffman and David Moo of meeting with the country's "right wing" to plan economic and electricital system sabotage.
As a result of the October expulsion by Venezuela, the United States threw out the charge d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington and two other diplomats from the Andean nation. 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.
"I can confirm that in response to the Venezuelan Government’s decision to declare three of our Embassy Caracas officials as personae non gratae, including our charge, that we informed the Venezuelan charge d’affaires on October 1st that in accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and Article 23 of the Vienna Convention on consular relations, we have declared him – so that’s the charge, the second secretary, and one of their consuls personae non gratae – we told them this last night, and they have been allowed 48 hours to leave the United States," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf at the time. "We’ve said for a long time, in terms of the broader relationship, that we want a functional and constructive relationship with Venezuela. We are certainly still committed to that, and we’ll continue working with the Venezuelans on this – on these issues that feed into our relationship."
“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.
Venezuela has been plagued by electricity shortages as well as widespread shortages of water, toilet paper, flour, bread and basic foodstuffs despite having the largest known oil reserves in the world. Inflation is officially running at over 56% and the currency, the bolivar, continues to be essentially unconvertible except in the black market where it has lost three-quarters of its value in one year.
Venezuela-watchers point out that Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who died in March, often blame the US "imperialist gringos" for the country's problems, despite being in power for over 15 years.
At the time, the leader of the Opposition, Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, tweeted that "Nobody believes the alerts from Miraflores. Pure smoke to cover that he cannot run the country! Maduro has no plan for the country and does not know how to solve the problems facing our people!"
Capriles narrowly lost a controversial and disputed special election to Maduro in April in the wake of the death of Chavez.
On March 5, Venezuela also ejected two U
.S. military attaches on similar allegations. That move came several hours before Maduro announced that longtime President Hugo Chavez had died of cancer.
Despite the fact that the US is the largest customer for Venezuela oil and Venezuela is the fifth largest supplier of oil to the US, the two countries have not had ambassadors in each others countries since former Venezuela President Hugo Chavez expelled US Ambassador Patrick Duddy in 2008 in "solidarity with Bolivia" and failed to approve his nominated successor in 2010.
The US reciprocated by expelling Venezuela Ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez after Chavez publicly said that Venezuela would reject the newly designated US Ambassador Larry Palmer in late December 2010.