Venezuela expels top United States diplomat for 'conspiring' against government

Venezuela expels top United States diplomat for 'conspiring' against government

Javier Howell
May 23, 2018

President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Venezuela in retaliation for a new round of sanctions over Venezuela's widely-condemned election.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to limit the Venezuelan government's ability to sell off state assets.

Maduro, the 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, won re-election easily, but critics said the vote was riddled with irregularities, from the barring of two popular opposition rivals to the offering of a government "prize" to voters.

The Donald Trump administration on Monday imposed new economic sanctions on the Maduro government banning USA citizens or companies from buying Venezuelan debt and the liquidation of Venezuelan assets in United States territory.

Maduro claimed USA charge d'affaires Todd Robinson was involved in "a military conspiracy", ordering him and senior diplomat, Brian Naranjo, to leave Venezuela within 48 hours.

Maduro accused Robinson and the U.S. Embassy of leading a "military, economic and political conspiracy" to overthrow him.

The group in a statement said the members' diplomats in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, would return to their respective countries for consultations.

The order came one day after Maduro won a presidential election that many consider to have been fraudulent. "Enough of conspiracies!" he said.

FILE - In this March 14, 2018 file photo, United States Chargé d'Affaires Todd Robinson attends the inauguration of a culture center that will facilitate study overseas opportunities for Venezuelan youths, in Lecheria, Venezuela.

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Days after landing in Caracas in December, he posed for pictures next to a statue of independence hero Simon Bolivar in a pro-government plaza and called Maduro's constitutional assembly "illegitimate".

US-led worldwide sanctions on Venezuela have become the object of growing criticism over the past year, with UN Independent Human Rights Expert Alfred de Zayas calling the measures a "crime against humanity" and encouraging Caracas to take Washington to the global Court of Justice.

The two USA diplomats are the latest to become targets of official wrath in the years since Venezuela adopted a quasi-socialist system.

A social crisis years in the making has worsened as Venezuela's oil production - the source of nearly all of its foreign income - has collapsed to the lowest level in decades and financial sanctions by the Trump administration have made it impossible for the government to renegotiate its debts. Turnout for the election was under 50 percent, compared to 80 percent in 2013.

The foreign ministry earlier lashed out at the sanctions, accusing the USA of a "political and financial lynching". The two countries have provided billions of dollars in funding for Venezuela in recent years.

But in Venezuela, it pales in comparison to the epic shortages of food, medicine, electricity, and safe drinking water. The South American country uses mostly USA diluents to reduce the viscosity of its heavy oils, and would have to pay much more to get them elsewhere.

USA spokespeople claim that the measures are aimed at preventing a "firesale" of the country's assets by corrupt officials looking for kickbacks.

In a statement on Tuesday, Venezuela's foreign ministry said the sanctions violated global law and blamed the US "blockade" of the country for "blocking the population's access to basic goods".