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US expels Venezuelan diplomats

© Photo: AFP

Video by Kyle G. BROWN

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-26

The United States expelled three Venezuelan diplomats on Tuesday in response to the expulsion of three US consular officials from Caracas last week as the two countries wrangle over Washington’s alleged role in Venezuela’s anti-government protests.

The envoys were given 48 hours to leave the country, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro expelled three US diplomats from Caracas last week, saying they were supporting opposition plots to overthrow him.

White House spokesman Jay Carney took offense, saying the current unrest in Venezuela is an issue between Maduro and his people, not between Venezuela and the US.

“President Maduro needs to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people through meaningful dialogue with them, not through dialogue with the United States,” Carney said.

“Despite what the Venezuelan government would like to lead people to believe, this is not a US-Venezuela issue. It is an issue between Venezuela and its people. We’ve been clear all along that the future of Venezuela is for the Venezuelan people to decide,” Carney said.

‘Show some seriousness’

The State Department’s Psaki cited US concerns about Venezuela’s record on human rights and support for democracy, but said Washington remains open to a diplomatic relationship with Maduro.

She said Venezuela “needs to show seriousness” for the US to move forward with that process. “Recent actions, including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult,” Psaki said.

The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, though they have maintained embassies.

Venezuelan opponents of Maduro have been staging countrywide protests this month that the government says have left at least 15 people dead and wounded some 150. Authorities have detained 579 people, of whom 45, including nine police officers and members of the National Guard, remain in custody.

Though violent protests have died down, the situation remains tense. Opposition protesters erected barricades to block traffic on major streets in Caracas and elsewhere on Monday, but there were no major clashes.

Fleeing to Florida

In Florida, politicians are calling on the Obama administration to grant political asylum to Venezuelans who have fled the country, as well as sanctions against officials responsible for the violence.

US Representative Joe Garcia said on Tuesday that Venezuelans living in the US deserve special consideration as they are a “target” of the Venezuelan government.

“To ask these people to return when we know there is credible fear of persecution ... is unjust,” he told a news conference at Miami International Airport, accompanied by several Venezuelan exile activists.

Florida is home to more than 100,000 Venezuelan immigrants, according to the US census, and the population has grown steadily since the country elected the late Socialist president, Hugo Chavez, in 1998, who was succeeded by Maduro last year.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Florida Republican Marco Rubio called on the Obama administration to pursue “individuals responsible for these atrocities”. He showed enlarged photographs of demonstrators, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and a 22-year-old local beauty queen, whose death has attracted more media attention that other victims’.

US Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, last week sent a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requesting an investigation into the Venezuelan government’s response to the protests.

Two other Miami Republican members of Congress, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also say they plan to file legislation to block US visas for Venezuelan government officials responsible for the violence.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

 

Date created : 2014-02-26

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