May 18, 2016 / 8:21 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. embassy limits consular services to Venezuela amid tensions

CARACAS (Reuters) - The United States is limiting consular services in Venezuela due to staff shortages at its embassy resulting from the South American nation’s refusal to grant visas for staff, the embassy in Caracas said.

A view shows the U.S. embassy building in Caracas March 4, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

As of Wednesday, the embassy will no longer provide appointments for first-time applicants for business or tourist visas, according to a statement on its web site.

“The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for U.S. Embassy personnel, resulting in staff shortages throughout the Embassy and also preventing visits by technicians to maintain, upgrade and repair our consular computer systems,” the statement read.

Venezuela has had a tumultuous and often acrimonious relationship with the United States since late leftist Hugo Chavez became president in 1999. The two countries have not shared ambassadorial ties since 2010.

The U.S. embassy limited consular services in a similar move in 2014, citing the expulsion of three consular officer and delays in approving visas to bring in new ones. The services were later restored.

Ties suffered another dip after Washington imposed sanctions on several top Venezuelan officials and declared Venezuela a national security threat last year.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government counters it is the United States that has dragged its feet on providing visas for its officials and accuses Washington of seeking to subvert his government.

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

News that the United States will reduce visa services will come as a blow to what the embassy said were “hundreds of thousands” of Venezuelan citizens who visit the huge ochre-colored mission every year.

A deepening economic crisis and crime have led many Venezuelans to pack their bags, with the U.S. state of Florida a prime destination. Hundreds of people often queue in front of the hilltop embassy from dawn to seek visas.

“Once the Foreign Ministry resumes issuing visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel, and those staff members are able to start working, we will begin to restore full visa services to the Venezuelan public,” the embassy added.

Reporting by Girish Gupta and Brian Ellsworth; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Alistair Bell

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