WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is expelling Venezuela’s top diplomat and two subordinates in retaliation for the expulsion of three American diplomats in Caracas.
Less than a day after the Venezuelan government accused the Americans of plotting sabotage, the State Department on Tuesday said it had notified Venezuelan charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios and two others in the embassy in Washington that they must leave the United States in 48 hours.
The Venezuelan government said American charge d’affairs Kelly Keiderling and the embassy’s political and consular officers had improperly met with the political opposition and had plotted sabotage of the power grid in Bolivar state.
U.S. officials denied those allegations, saying the three had been traveling for routine meetings with nongovernmental groups.
"It is regrettable that the Venezuelan government has again decided to expel U.S. diplomatic officials based on groundless allegations, which require reciprocal action," the State Department said in a statement released late Tuesday. "It is counterproductive to the interests of both our countries and not a serious way for a country to conduct its foreign policy."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government has been under pressure from deepening economic troubles, including shortages in consumer products such as food, beer and toilet paper. Frequent power interruptions have further damaged the economy and frustrated Venezuelans, who go to the polls in December for local elections.
Maduro has been accused of blaming the United States for the problems to bolster his domestic support.