U.S.-Venezuela ties reached a breaking point on Monday as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro expelled the top American diplomat and two other officials for “plotting to sabotage the country’s electrical grid and the economy”.
The three officials are: Kelly Keiderling, who was charge d’affairs at the U.S. embassy; David Moo, the U.S. Vice Consul; and Elizabeth Hoffman, assistant secretary for political Affairs.
Making this announcement from the headquarters of an army battalion in Santa Ana, Mr. Maduro said, “Get out of Venezuela, Yankee go home! Enough of abuses against the dignity of a country that wants peace.”
In his televised address, Mr. Maduro accused the U.S. diplomats of trying to cripple the country’s economy with the help of opposition parties. “We have detected a group of officials of the U.S. embassy, and we have been tracking them for several months,” he said. “These officials spend their time meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right wing, financing them and encouraging them to take actions to sabotage the electrical system, to sabotage the Venezuelan economy.”
In his highly-charged speech, Mr. Maduro even took a swipe at U.S. President Barack Obama. “The actions of the government of Obama do not matter,” he said, accusing his American counterpart of fomenting sabotage. “We will not allow an imperial government to bring money and see how they can stop basic companies and stop the electricity to turn off all of Venezuela.”
Soon after his announcement, the U.S. embassy issued a statement, denying the involvement of its officials in any conspiracy. “We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” the embassy said in the statement.
Calling the meetings held by its officials as “normal diplomatic engagements”, the statement said: “We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum.”
This is not the first time Mr. Maduro, who became President in April following the death of Hugo Chavez, has accused the Americans of trying to sabotage the economy. He has blamed the Americans for the failure of the nation-wide electrical grid and a major fire at the biggest oil refinery.
But the latest friction assumes significance as it comes immediately after Mr. Maduro’s return from Beijing, where he signed multi-billion dollar deals with the Chinese government and companies.
During his four-day trip, Mr. Maduro and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed 12 agreements related to a finance fund deal, education, and a joint development between Chinese state-owned oil producer Sinopec and Venezuela’s national oil company. They also signed a pact between China’s space flight administration and Venezuela’s science and innovation ministry relating to remote satellites.
In a further sign of growing mistrust, Mr. Maduro had last week scrapped his plans to take part in the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, claiming he had received threats to his life. On his return from China on Wednesday, Maduro had said he had cancelled the trip after receiving intelligence about two “highly serious provocations”.