Venezuela ordered the expulsion of the top two US diplomats in the country on Tuesday, charging it was the victim of a “political and financial lynching” after Washington tightened sanctions over Nicolas Maduro’s re-election.
Maduro announced the expulsions in a televised speech after being officially proclaimed the winner of Sunday’s election in the South American nation mired in an acute economic crisis and facing growing international isolation.
The vote was boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely condemned by the international community, including the United States, which denounced it as a “sham.”
The Venezuelan president declared US charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and deputy head of mission Brian Naranjo “personae non gratae.”
“They must leave the country in 48 hours in protest and in defense of the dignity of the Venezuelan homeland… Enough of conspiracies!” he said.
The United States immediately threatened to retaliate.
A State Department official told AFP that Washington had “not received notification from the Venezuelan government through diplomatic channels,” but that if the expulsions are confirmed, “the United States may take appropriate reciprocal action.”
In anticipation that Venezuela’s charge d’affaires in Washington, Carlos Ron, would be expulsed, he was appointed vice minister of foreign affairs for North America.
On Monday, President Donald Trump tightened sanctions against Caracas, making it harder for the Maduro regime to sell off state assets.
“I repudiate all the sanctions that are sought against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, because they harm it, they generate suffering for the people of Venezuela,” Maduro said in the speech.
He promised to present “evidence” that both diplomats were engaged in a political, military and economic “conspiracy.”
Robinson denied the allegations.
“We strongly reject the accusations against me and against” Naranjo, he told journalists in the western city of Merida, promising to return there even despite Maduro expulsing him.