December 14, 2017
Monday, March 2, 2015

Venezuela tells US embassy to downsize amid diplomatic tension

Venezuela today ordered the US embassy in Caracas to reduce its personnel from 100 to 17 amid a new diplomatic flare-up between Nicolás Maduro's government and its foe to the north.

The president has renewed accusations in recent weeks that the United States is seeking to topple him.

"They have 15 days to reduce the size of their embassy to 17 staffers," Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said after a meeting with the United States' chargé d'affaires Lee McClenny, Washington's most senior diplomat in Venezuela.

Maduro has said 100 staffers work at the embassy, an imposing ochre building perched on a hill overlooking Caracas. Venezuela has 17 staffers in Washington, according to Maduro, who says the embassies should be on par.

On Saturday he announced his government had detained US citizens, including a pilot, on suspicion of espionage. The pilot's identity remains unclear.

Four American missionaries held for questioning for several days have now been released.
US diplomats in Caracas could not give any information about the pilot, or say whether Maduro was referring to any Americans other than the missionaries.

"We have not received any official notification," an embassy spokesman said.

The Venezuelan leader announced the embassy downsize in a thundering speech over the weekend, when he also read out a "terrorism list" of US politicians, including former U.S. President George W. Bush and Senator Bob Menendez, banned from entering Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government is also introducing new visa requirements for US citizens visiting the country.

Washington has repeatedly denied meddling in Venezuelan affairs, and the State Department said on Monday that the United States was concerned about the detention reports.

Maduro's opponents call his accusation of US intervention a theatrical smokescreen designed to distract from a deep recession, shortages of basic goods ranging from toilet paper to medicines, and the region's steepest inflation.
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Tags:  Venezuela  Maduro  US  tension  diplomatic  embassy  

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