VENEZUELA: US withdraws all staff from Caracas embassy

The US will withdraw all diplomatic staff from Venezuela this week due to the “deteriorating situation” there, the state department has said.

In a tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said having staff in Caracas had “become a constraint on US policy”.

The US ordered all non-essential staff to leave Venezuela in January amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis.

Widespread power cuts and a worsening humanitarian crisis have sparked mass protests.

Amid the crisis, a well-known journalist was detained on Tuesday. Luis Carlos Diaz became the latest journalist targeted by Venezuelan authorities, after he was accused by a radical pro-government TV programme of playing a role in the blackout.

The decision to vacate the embassy came late on Monday and followed critical comments Mr Pompeo made to reporters about Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated in recent months.

On Tuesday, in a statement published on Twitter by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s government gave the remaining US diplomats in the country 72 hours to leave. The US said the “former president” no longer had the authority to order them out.

US President Donald Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president after Mr Guaidó declared himself interim leader on 23 January. Venezuela then broke off diplomatic relations in response.

“Nicolás Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life in a socialist paradise,” Mr Pompeo said on Monday. “He delivered on the socialism part… the paradise part? Not so much.”

But in a televised address, Mr Maduro blamed the continuing power cuts on foreign sabotage. “The United States’ imperialist government ordered this attack,” he said, without offering evidence.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a televised address on MondayVenezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blamed the US for the ongoing power outage

What’s the latest?

Much of Venezuela has been without power since last Thursday. This has reportedly been caused by problems at the Guri hydroelectric plant in Bolívar state – one of the largest such facilities in Latin America.

Venezuela depends on its vast hydroelectric infrastructure, rather than its oil reserves, for its domestic electricity supply.

But decades of underinvestment have damaged the major dams, and sporadic blackouts are commonplace.

People detained by security forces lie on the street after looting broke out during an ongoing blackout in Caracas, Venezuela
People were detained by security forces after looting broke out during the blackout

The opposition says at least 17 people have reportedly died as a result of the blackout.

Over the weekend, pro-government and opposition groups staged rival demonstrations and there were sporadic clashes with police.

Further protests are expected in the capital on Tuesday.

A woman is detained by security forces after looting broke outA woman is detained by police during the power cuts

What’s the background?

President Maduro has accused Mr Guaidó of trying to mount a coup against him with the help of “US imperialists”.

Mr Maduro narrowly won a presidential election in April 2013 after the death of his mentor, President Hugo Chávez. He was elected to a second term in May 2018 in an election which has been widely described as “neither free nor fair”.

In recent years Venezuela has experienced economic collapse, with severe food shortages and inflation reaching at least 800,000% last year.

The Maduro government is becoming increasingly isolated as more and more countries blame it for the economic crisis, which has prompted more than three million people to leave Venezuela.

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