Venezuela expels US diplomats as Hugo Chávez is pronounced dead
March 6, 2013 11 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Venezuela moved yesterday to expel two American diplomats from the country, shortly before officially pronouncing the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The expulsions are seen by some as attempts to curtail communication between United States officials and the Venezuelan opposition in the aftermath of Chávez’s death. In a speech televised live on Venezuelan television on Tuesday, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said US Air Force attaché Colonel David Delmonaco, who was stationed at the American embassy in Venezuelan capital Caracas, would be expelled. “Mr. David Delmonaco has 24 hours to pick up his belongings and leave this country”, said Maduro, who is widely reputed to succeed Chávez. He added that the American attaché had been engaged in efforts “to destabilize the country”, but did not elaborate on the allegation. Shortly afterwards, Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua told a press conference that a second US Air Force attaché, who remains unnamed, had been declared persona non grata and would be expelled from the country along with Delmonaco. Later on the same day, US government spokesman Colonel Todd Breasseale confirmed the diplomatic expulsions. He told journalists that the US was “aware of the allegations made by Venezuelan Vice President Maduro over state-run television in Caracas”, adding that he was in a position to confirm that “our Air Attache Colonel David Delmonaco, is en route back to the United States”. But the US Department of State said it “completely reject[ed] the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government”. Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell called Maduro’s allegations “absurd” and warned Caracas that Washington “has options of reciprocal action available to it under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”. Later during the same speech, Vice President Maduro repeated an allegation initially made by Chávez himself in 2011 that United States intelligence agencies could be behind the rapid deterioration of his health. Maduro ended his fiercely combative speech by warning “foreign and domestic traitors” that “their day would come” before too long. The US embassy in Caracas said on its website that its consular section would remain closed on March 6.