People shout slogans as they protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in front of riot policemen outside the Cuban embassy in Caracas on Tuesday. (Juan Barreto / Getty Images)
Washington— The United States has expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to similar action against three U.S. consular officials in Caracas.
Venezuelan envoys First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo, were given 48 hours to leave the U.S., State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats from Caracas on Feb. 17, saying they were supporting opposition plots to overthrow him.
White House spokesman Jay Carney took offense and said what is happening in Venezuela is an issue between Maduro and his people, not between Venezuela and the U.S.
“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 U.S.-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.
This month, Venezuelan opponents of Maduro have been staging countrywide protests that the government says have left at least 15 people dead and wounded about 150. Authorities have detained 579 people, of whom 45, including nine police officers and members of the National Guard, remain in custody.
The State Department’s Psaki cited U.S. concerns about Venezuela’s record on human rights and support for democracy, but said Washington remains open to a diplomatic relationship with Maduro. But she said Venezuela “needs to show seriousness” for the U.S. 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.
Meanwhile, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter expressed concern about Venezuela’s escalating political crisis and wants to meet with leaders on both sides to help ease tensions in an upcoming trip.
Carter made the offer in letters this week to President Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Though violent protests have died down, the situation in Venezuela remains tense. Opposition protesters erected barricades to block traffic on major streets in Caracas and elsewhere Monday.
Hours after Washington’s announcement, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz as the country’s new ambassador to the U.S.