In what has been deemed a retaliatory action, the U.S. State Department announced the expulsion of two Venezuelan diplomats, one week after Venezuela expelled a pair of U.S. Embassy officials from the country. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced that Orlando Jose Montanez Olivares and Victor Camacaro Mata were both declared persona non grata, and have been ordered to leave the country.
“Around the world, when our people are thrown out unjustly, we’re going to take reciprocal action,” she said. “We need to do that to protect our own people.”
The expulsion of the U.S. diplomats came just hours ahead of the news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had died. Vice President and acting head of state Nicolas Maduro accused the Americans of attempting to destabilize the country, and went so far as to suggest that the U.S. was responsible for Chavez’s cancer.
“In the day or days that followed there was some pretty heated rhetoric coming in our direction,” Nuland said, referring to Maduro’s comments. “I think I called it at one point a page from the old ‘Chavista’ playbook that we were hoping was going to change.
“There is work that we would like to do together, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism, counternarcotics, economics and energy relations, but it’s going to take a change of tone from Caracas,” she added.
Soothing relations between Venezuela and the U.S. will no doubt take time, as the South American country prepares for a presidential election next month. Maduro was Chavez’s chosen successor, and will likely maintain the late leader’s foreign policy choices and has made his anti-American stance clear.
Henrique Capriles will represent the country’s opposition parties, as he did in 2012 when he was defeated by Chavez. It is unknown whether Capriles would be more open to cooperation with American diplomats. Venezuela’s special presidential election is set for April 14.