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Venezuela gives US 15 days on embassy staff cuts

March 3, 2015

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela is giving the United States 15 days to present plans to slash the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said Monday.

The move came after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro lashed out Saturday at U.S. “conspiracies” against his socialist government and ordered his foreign ministry to reduce the number of officials at the U.S. Embassy from 100 to 17.

Rodríguez told journalists she had a “cordial” meeting with the top U.S. diplomat in Caracas, Lee McClenny, to discuss the new measures.

“Regarding the reduction to 17 staff, he was given a period of 15 days to present a plan,” the foreign minister said.

She also said the government would in the coming hours publish its new visa requirement for U.S. visitors — another measure announced by Maduro.

In a fiery speech Saturday that showed rising tensions between the two countries, Maduro said he was banning a list of U.S. “terrorists” from Venezuela, including former president George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, as well as Latino lawmakers Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Calling for “equal terms between states,” he said the United States must not have more diplomats in Caracas than Venezuela has in Washington — 17. He also announced plans to charge U.S. citizens the same visa fee that Venezuelans pay to visit the United States.

Tensions have been growing between the two countries since Maduro said on Feb. 12 that a U.S.-backed coup plot against him had been disrupted.

The United States dismissed the claim as “baseless and false.”

In the following days, Venezuelan security forces arrested the opposition mayor of Caracas on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government, a move condemned by Washington.

Like his late mentor Hugo Chávez, Maduro regularly denounces alleged coup plots and assassination attempts against him.

A fervent critic of “American imperialism,” he has had numerous diplomatic spats with the United States. The two countries have not sent ambassadors to each other’s capitals since 2010.

 

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