U.S. defends diplomats expelled from Venezuela

CARACAS Tue Oct 1, 2013 7:04pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. Charge d'Affaires Kelly Keiderling talks to the media during a news conference at the U.S. embassy in Caracas October 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) - The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela on Tuesday defended three diplomats expelled by President Nicolas Maduro, rejecting charges they were involved in espionage and accusations Washington is trying to destabilize the OPEC nation.

In the latest spat between the ideological foes, Maduro on Monday ordered out three U.S. diplomats including Kelly Keiderling, temporarily in charge of the mission.

He alleged they had been meeting with "right wing" opposition leaders and encouraging acts of sabotage against the South American nation's electricity grid and economy.

The expulsions throw a wrench into cautious efforts this year to restore full diplomatic ties that were frayed for most of the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

The U.S. government was evaluating its response and may take reciprocal action in accordance with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, a statement from the embassy said.

"We completely reject the Venezuelan government's allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government," it added.

"We likewise reject the specific claims against the three members of our embassy."

In an address to the nation, Maduro repeated his accusations on Tuesday, saying the three Americans had been handing over money and stirring up plots in southeastern Bolivar state.

"You can see the hand of the gringo conspiracy ... they talk of a Benghazi," Maduro said, referring to the cradle of revolt against late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Maduro showed a video of the three in a special TV broadcast all local channels were obliged to show live.

To a backdrop of dramatic music, the video showed images of diplomatic vehicles, a flight manifest and the three diplomats entering and departing what appeared to be offices of pro-opposition groups in Bolivar.

"Until the U.S. government understands it has to respect Venezuela as a sovereign nation, quite simply there will be no cordial relations, nor cordial communications," Maduro said.

The U.S. Embassy statement said the diplomats were in Bolivar state on entirely "normal" business.

"We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum," it said.

"This is what diplomats do. Venezuelan diplomats in the United States similarly meet with a broad range of representatives of our society."

Maduro, who is Chavez's successor and part of a Latin American leftist alliance including Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, named a new acting head of Venezuela's U.S. diplomatic mission shortly after his April election.

Many took that as a sign of warming relations.

That official may now face expulsion in the tit-for-tat style retaliation that has characterized similar incidents in the past.

Chavez in 2008 expelled Ambassador Patrick Duddy over what he called Washington's involvement in violent protests in Bolivia. In 2010, he blocked the nomination of diplomat Larry Palmer over comments that there were "clear ties" between members of Chavez's government and leftist Colombian rebels.

Venezuela's opposition says Maduro is continuing a Chavez-era tactic of inflating and inventing diplomatic crises to distract attention from economic and social problems affecting the nation's 29 million people.

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (4)
SoutherRican wrote:
Just take all diplomats out of the Venezuelan state and cut relations, all they want to do is use the U.S. as a punching bag. Most of the affluent Venezuelans with money and power have already moved to the U.S. and are making their last stand in the Doral,Florida just north of Miami. That is what they call defending their country and its interests with devotion you know as in the word patriot. Just like many Cubans did when opposing Castro, out of the Little Havana section in Miami, and they got Castro out quickly, Right.

Oct 01, 2013 1:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Updraft wrote:
Venezuela is the next Iran. The thugs in power use conspiracy theory to whip up support from the masses whom they deliberately keep ignorant. In fact, Iran and Venezuela have significant economic ties not the least significant of which deals with you guessed it – nuclear power.

Oct 01, 2013 4:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
youradufus wrote:
I doubt that Maduro will last long. Most of the people in Venezuela easily see through the ridiculous, continuously spewed, leftist mantra of the bogus and spurious façade that is his presidency. Maduro is no Chavez. If the Venezuelans get any kind of news even close to that which is published in the U.S. then it’s a no brainer even for the most isolated and out of touch among them. As for the diplomats who have been deported, they should consider themselves lucky to be back in the U.S. Why waste your time and talents when the one-direction politics are so stacked against you? Have a home cooked meal and watch the leaves change.

Oct 01, 2013 12:53am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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