Tuesday, February 25, 2014

U.S. to Expel Venezuelan Diplomats

The U.S. State Department announced that it will expel a trio of Venezuelan diplomats in a retaliatory measure after three U.S. consular officers were given the heave ho from Caracas.

The Vienna Convention “permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason,” according to a statement reportedly from the State Department.

The agency named Venezuelan First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo as the diplomats who must leave the U.S. within the next forty-eight hours.

On February 17th, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expelled three U.S. consular officials who he alleged met student protesters intent on ousting him.  State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki replied by calling the accusations “baseless and false,” and urged the government and opposition to engage in peaceful dialogue. 

So far the Venezuelan government has not publicly responded to the State Department’s actions.  But this afternoon, Maximilian Arveláez was appointed as Venezuela’s next Ambassador in a move Vice President Elias Jaua said was proof of the need to establish “honest and frank” diplomatic ties between both countries.

Venezuela and the U.S. have not had ambassadors in each other's countries since 2010 and relations between the two countries have been weak under Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez.

At least fifteen people have died in clashes and violence that were triggered by confrontations following a mass opposition rally on February 12th.  Maduro has blamed “right-wing fascists” for inciting violence while the opposition accused the National Guard and armed militia groups of attacking protesters.

While diplomatic ties between Venezuela and the U.S. continue to be on shaky ground, political tensions and popular discontent have not abated in the South American country.  Maduro announced a “peace conference” to be held on Wednesday where politicians and members of civil society can sign a pact agreeing to end the violence.  Meanwhile, Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, has called on a mass protest in Caracas for tomorrow and for demonstrators to wear white and carry white flowers “for the future of our children and grandchildren.”
Another possible opportunity to calm the unrest could come from Panama whose president, Ricardo Martinelli, has called for an “urgent” meeting of foreign ministers at the Organization of American States wit the goal of helping find a “solution through dialogue between Venezuelans.”  (The conservative presidents of Chile and Colombia along with Peru’s leftist president have each provided reserved remarks in response to the unrest in Venezuela). 

Video Source– AFP via YouTube

Online Sources – Quartz; CNN; El Universal; BusinessWeek; BBC News; Reuters; New York Daily News

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