Expulsion of U.S. and Venezuelan embassy officials is a game of diplomatic roulette that started under Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
The socialist president, who died in March, began kicking out U.S. diplomats in 2008, setting off a dispute that continued for nearly a year before both countries restored their ambassadors. But that did not last long.
The latest diplomatic dust-up erupted Monday, when President Nicolas Maduro expelled Kelly Keiderling, the highest-ranking official at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, and Elizabeth Hunderland and David Mutt, both in the embassy’s political section.
Mr. Maduro accused them of spying because they met with his political opponents. At one point, he declared, “Yankees, go home!”
The State Department responded within 24 hours by expelling Calixto Ortega Rios, the top diplomat at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, along with press office secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales and consular officer Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida.
The Venezuelan Embassy expressed outrage Wednesday on its website: “This cannot be considered a reciprocal decision … “
It insisted that the three Venezuelan diplomats “have not dared at any time to sustain meetings with groups who are against the government of President Barack Obama or with persons interested in acting against the U.S. government.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. Embassy officials were “conducting normal diplomatic engagement” by meeting the democratic opposition.
“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” she told reporters Tuesday.
The U.S. and Venezuela do not have ambassadors in each other countries.
Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez returned home in late 2011, and U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy ended his assignment in 2010.
Chavez expelled Mr. Duddy in 2008 in what he called an act of solidarity with Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales, who had kicked out U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg on charges of interfering in Bolivia’s internal affairs. Chavez also recalled Mr. Alvarez.
Mr. Duddy and Mr. Alvarez returned to their posts about nine months later.
In 2010, Chavez refused to accept Larry Palmer, Mr. Obama’s choice to replace Mr. Duddy, after the career diplomat told a Senate hearing that Cuba was influencing the Venezuelan military and that Chavez was aiding communist rebels in Colombia.
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