US expels three Venezuelan officials in diplomatic row

Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro President Nicolas Maduro accused US consular officials of conspiring with students who led protests

The United States has expelled three Venezuelan diplomats, in response to the expulsion of three of its own consular officials from Caracas.

Just over a week ago, Venezuela had accused the expelled Americans of having links with violent groups.

President Obama said the claims were baseless and false.

At least 13 people have been killed during weeks of protests in Venezuela, although the opposition puts the number of dead at 15.

The US State Department said Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo were considered "personae non-gratae" and had 48 hours to leave the country.

On 16 February, Venezuela said it was expelling three US diplomats for allegedly meeting students who had been involved in violent marches.

But the US State Department soon rejected the accusations in an official press statement, followed by remarks by the President, Barack Obama.

'Legitimate grievances'

He told reporters after a meeting in Mexico that Venezuela had been "making up false accusations" and that the government of President Nicolas Maduro should focus on the "legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people."

Consular officials Breann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristopher Lee Clark were accused of meeting students in private universities in the last two months.

Washington's diplomatic reprisal came on the same day the Venezuelan government named a new ambassador to the US.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said the move illustrated Caracas' willingness to maintain a political and diplomatic rapport with Washington, reports BBC Mundo's Thomas Sparrow in Washington.

On Tuesday, Mr Jaua said Mr Maduro had named Maximilian Arvelaez as the country's new envoy to the US. Mr Arvelaez was previously the ambassador to Brazil.

The recent unrest started in Tachira and the neighbouring state of Merida, when students took to the streets, angered by Venezuela's high crime rate and economic woes, including record inflation and shortages of some staples.

But the government has blamed the shortages on "saboteurs" and "profit-hungry corrupt businessmen".

President Maduro accused opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez of inciting violence, but his arrest triggered further demonstrations.

The government blames Mr Lopez for the unrest and accuses him of conspiring against the government with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

There have also been large rival demonstrations by supporters of the government.

President Maduro has called for a "national peace conference" to be held on Wednesday.

More on This Story

More Latin America & Caribbean stories


Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world

  • Music scoreFinal score Watch

    Goodbye to NYC's last classical sheet music shop

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show


  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.