U.S. expels two Venezuelan diplomats

The United States has expelled two Venezuelan diplomats, the State Department said Monday, a diplomatic tit-for-tat following the Latin American oil giant’s expulsion of two American military attachés last week.

The two mid-level diplomats left the country Sunday, one day after the State Department notified the Venezuelan Embassy that each had been declared “persona non grata,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

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Nuland would not say whether the explusions were delayed until after the funeral of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s long-serving and stridently anti-American leader. Chavez’s recent death has complicated the already difficult diplomatic dealings between the two countries. Embassies are open in both capitals, but without full ambassadors in charge.

The two expelled officials are second secretary Jose Orlando Montanez Olivares and consular officer Victor Camacaro Mata. The State Department gave no information on the length of the men’s service in the United States or their specific duties, but said their expulsion was a commensurate response to Venezuela’s action, not a reaction to specific actions the two might have taken.

Chavez’s March 5 death was the impetus for Venezuela’s expulsion of the two Americans. Chavez’s leftist backers have, at times, accused the United States of poisoning him or causing his cancer.

The Obama administration has said it wants to repair badly frayed relations with Venezuela, but Chavez’s death is unlikely to provide much of an opening. Venezuela will hold a presidential election next month, and Chavez’s chosen successor is firmly anti-American.

“Clearly, when you have an incident that you consider unjust, and then you need to take reciprocal action and make your point,” Nuland said. “We do hope for better relations with Venezuela. There is work that we would like to do together, particularly in the areas of counterterrorism, counternarcotics, economics and energy relations, but it’s going to take a change of tone from Caracas.”

 
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