WASHINGTON, United States, Wednesday March 13, 2013 – Further dimension was added to diplomatic tensions between the United States and Venezuela on Monday when the State Department announced that two Venezuelan diplomats had been expelled.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Orlando Jose Montanez Olivares and Victor Camacaro Mata were declared personae non gratae and ordered to leave the country in response to Venezuela’s decision to kick out two US officials last week.
“Around the world, when our people are thrown out unjustly, we’re going to take reciprocal action. We need to do that to protect our own people,” Nuland said.
The Venezuelan diplomats’ expulsion came after Caracas said it was expelling two US Embassy officials and accused them of plotting to destabilize the country. The move was made by Venezuela mere hours before the announcement of the death of President Hugo Chavez last week.
“In the day or days that followed there was some pretty heated rhetoric coming in our direction,” the State Department spokeswoman said.
“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 counter-terrorism, counternarcotics, economics and energy relations, but it’s going to take a change of tone from Caracas,” she noted.
Camacaro, who worked in the Venezuelan Consulate in New York, and Montanez, who worked at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, have since left the United States.
The expelled US officials, both of whom were air attaches at the US Embassy in Caracas, were accused of meeting with members of the Venezuelan military and encouraging them to pursue “destabilizing projects,” according to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.
Nicolas Maduro, then vice president and now Venezuela’s acting head of state, had also suggested, while criticizing the US Embassy officials last week, that someone had deliberately infected Chavez with cancer.
The accusations were dismissed by State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
“This fallacious assertion of inappropriate US action leads us to conclude that, unfortunately, the current Venezuelan government is not interested in an improved relationship,” Ventrell said.