After Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats on Monday, the U.S. State Department said today it may take “reciprocal action.”
Amid power outages and ahead of municipal elections this December, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the top U.S. diplomat in Caracas, Charge d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling, and two other U.S. diplomats to leave the country within 48 hours.
Maduro accused the three of working with Venezuela’s political opposition and helping to sabotage the country’s power grid. Maduro made his announcement in a live TV appearance, showing photos of the three on a trip to the states of Bolivar and opposition-governed Amazonas and claiming he had sent Secretary of State John Kerry evidence of their collusion, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Venezuela’s power grid has been plagued by widespread outages that have left large swaths of the country without electricity recently. Maduro has blamed the outages on the “extreme right,” accusing political opponents of sabotage.
The U.S. State Department denied those charges today and hinted it may expel Venezuelan diplomats from the U.S.
“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of the U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing in Washington, D.C.
“The United States may take reciprocal action,” Psaki said. “We’re still considering what actions we might take.”
The U.S. “completely reject[s]” Maduro’s accusations, Psaki said. It is unclear whether the diplomats are still in Venezuela.
“They were there conducting normal diplomatic engagement, as we’ve said in the past and should come as no surprise,” Psaki said of their travel to Bolivar and Amazonas — the focus of Maduro’s allegations. “We of course maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum. And we maintain a broad perspective on Venezuela and travel frequently.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meanwhile, passed a resolution on Monday supporting Venezuelan democracy and calling on Maduro to recognize political opponents.
In a statement today, committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called the expulsions a “sign that the Maduro administration prioritizes manufactured public distractions that were the cornerstone of the Chavez regime over serious dialogue with the United States.”