Venezuela leader expels U.S. diplomats
By FABIOLA SANCHEZ
CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that Venezuela will not have cordial relations with the United States as long as U.S. diplomats continue what he alleges are attempts to destabilize his country.
He said “new points of contact” can be established, but only if Washington ends such activity.
Maduro’s tough talk came a day after he announced the expulsion of the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela, Charge d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling, and two other embassy officials, alleging they conspired with “the extreme right” to sabotage the economy and power grid.
The United States again on Tuesday rejected the allegations that it is trying to destabilize this South American nation.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Venezuela’s government delivered a diplomatic note to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas on Monday night that said it had declared the U.S. charge d’affaires, the political officer and the consular officer personas non grata.
Psaki said the U.S. might take reciprocal action in accordance with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and on consular relations but was still considering what action to take.
She said the allegations were related to the U.S. Embassy workers’ travel to Bolivar state, which is home to troubled state-owned foundries and Venezuela’s main hydroelectric plant.
“They were there conducting normal diplomatic engagement, as we’ve said in the past and should come as no surprise,” Psaki said.
“We, of course, maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum. And we maintain a broad perspective on Venezuela and travel frequently, of course. That’s what diplomats do. So there was nothing out of the ordinary about that. And that was part of their accusations,” she said.
Expelled with Keiderling, the top embassy official in the absence of an ambassador, were consular officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who works in the embassy’s political section.
Speaking Tuesday from the government palace, Maduro said that “while the government of the United States does not understand that it has to respect our country’s sovereignty there will be simply be no cordial relations nor cordial communication.”
“The day that the government of President (Barack) Obama rectifies the situation we will establish new points of contact to discuss common issues,” said Maduro, the hand-picked successor to late President Hugo Chavez.
On Monday, state TV showed photographs and video of the three U.S. diplomats in Bolivar and the neighboring state of Amazonas, including making visits to offices of Sumate, an electoral-monitoring group that helped organize a failed 2004 recall vote against Chavez. Foreign Minister Elias Jaua accused them of working with Sumate on “the idea” of not recognizing the results of Dec. 8 elections for mayors and city councils.
Dashiell Lopez, a board member of Sumate, denied that members of the group had met with the expelled diplomats. He said in a phone interview Tuesday that Sumate only lent its facilities for a meeting last week between the diplomats and religious groups. “There was no meeting with Sumate, and no people of Sumate were at the meeting,” he said.
On Monday, Maduro said a group of embassy officials that his government had been following for months was “dedicated to meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right, to financing it and feeding its actions to sabotage the electrical system and the Venezuela economy.”
Venezuela’s economy is increasingly struggling ahead of the Dec. 8 elections. Annual inflation is at more than 45 percent and the government is running short of foreign currency.
The oil-rich OPEC member country has been plagued by worsening power outages since 2010. The opposition blames neglect and poor maintenance, while alleging mismanagement and corruption at struggling state-owned aluminum, iron and bauxite foundries in Bolivar.
Maduro has blamed sabotage by the “extreme right” for both the blackouts and for food shortages, but he has provided no evidence. Like Chavez, he has a history of making unsubstantiated accusations against the United States and his political opponents.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.
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