U.S. to withdraw personnel from embassy in Venezuela amid turmoil

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By Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — As growing chaos took hold in Venezuela, a country whose people have had little power, water and communications for days, the United States announced plans to withdraw all remaining personnel from its embassy there this week.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement Monday night on Twitter. “This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in #Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy,” he wrote.

Pompeo announced the decision late Monday as Venezuela struggles to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country and a deepening political crisis.

The U.S. has led an international effort to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold new a presidential election.

Guaido is backed by some 50 countries, while Maduro maintains support from countries such as China, Russia and Cuba.

Maduro ordered U.S. diplomats to leave in late January but then backed off.

Pompeo says the remaining diplomats in Venezuela will be removed by the end of the week.

Earlier Monday, Pompeo blamed Russia and Cuba for causing Venezuela’s political crisis by supporting President Nicolas Maduro and said he had urged India not to help Maduro’s government by buying Venezuelan oil.

His comments came after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for helping Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA evade U.S. financial restrictions.

“This story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare,” Pompeo told reporters.

“Moscow, like Havana, continues to provide political cover to the Maduro regime, while pressuring countries to disregard the democratic legitimacy of the interim president Guaido,” he added.

The Trump administration has taken several steps in recent weeks to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as interim president.

However, Maduro, who has accused Guaido of a U.S.-directed coup attempt, retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.

Venezuelans on Monday converged on a polluted river in Caracas to fill water bottles and held scattered protests in several cities.

A 3-year-old girl with a brain tumor languished in a Caracas hospital, awaiting treatment after doctors started surgery but then suspended the operation when nationwide power outages first hit on Thursday, said the girl’s fearful mother, who only gave her first name, Yalimar.

“The doctors told me that there are no miracles,” said Yalimar, who hopes her daughter can be transferred Tuesday to one of the few hospitals in Venezuela that would be able to finish the complex procedure.

The girl’s story highlighted an unfolding horror in Venezuela, where years of hardship got abruptly worse after the power grid collapsed. On Monday, schools and businesses were closed, long lines of cars waited at the few gasoline stations with electricity and hospitals cared for many patients without power. Generators have alleviated conditions for some of the critically ill.

Late Monday, President Nicolas Maduro said on national television that progress had been made in restoring power in Venezuela. He also said two people who were allegedly trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido and his chief ally, the United States, say Maduro’s claims that the U.S. sabotaged the power grid with a “cyberattack” are an attempt to divert attention from the government’s own failings.

There have been acts of kindness during Venezuela’s crisis: People whose food would rot in fridges without power donated it to a restaurant, which cooked it for distribution to charitable foundations and hospitals.

The blackouts have also hit the oil industry. The country hasn’t shipped $358 million in oil since the power failures started, and “the whole system is grinding to a halt,” said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets.

Two large tankers are sitting empty at the Jose offshore oil-loading dock, and at least 19 other ships are waiting their turns there, Dallen said.

Engineers have restored power in some parts of Venezuela, but it often goes out again. There have been a few protests in Caracas and reports of similar anti-government anger elsewhere. Guaido tweeted about reports of looting in some cities, but details were difficult to confirm.

Reuters contributed.

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