Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on late Monday that the United States will pull its remaining diplomats from Venezuela, saying that their presence there was a “constraint” on U.S. policy.
Classified documents and special equipment is to be destroyed according to State Department procedure or, in some instances, taken out (in the case of the evacuation of diplomats in 2014, some equipment not normally destroyed was taken from Libya to Tunisia). The flag will also be removed from the embassy. (Marines lowered the flag in Cuba when the embassy closed in 1961, then raised it again in 2015).
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding what will happen to the embassy files, or what process the embassy staff will follow to get out of Caracas.
In one sense, the news came as a surprise. After National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president in late January, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro said U.S. diplomats had 72 days to leave the country; Guaidó, who is recognized as the rightful head of state by the United States, said they should stay.
But in another sense, the diplomatic withdrawal could have been expected -- the United States had already drawn down embassy staff back in January.
And this is hardly the first time the United States has pulled all out all embassy or consular staff.
Last September, the State Department announced it was temporarily closing and ordering an evacuation of its consulate in Basra, one of three U.S. diplomatic missions in Iraq. The announcement came after a rocket attack and was blamed on Iran-backed violence. Late last month, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Fareed Yasseen, asked that the consulate be reopened.
Embassies and consulates also close temporarily for short stints in cases of security risk, such as when a terrorist threat led to the closure of 22 embassies and consulates one Sunday in 2013.
But in some cases, the doors are shut for a longer period of time. In 2012, the United States closed its embassy and withdrew the staff in Syria due to security concerns amid the country’s bloody civil war. Iran hasn’t had an open U.S. embassy since the revolution in 1979, and North Korea does not have a U.S. embassy, as the United States did not recognize North Korea in 1948 when it recognized South Korea. In these countries, the United States relies on a protecting power -- a country that does the diplomatic and, most critically, consular work on behalf of another country. In Syria, the United States relies on the Czech Republic; in Iran, on Switzerland; and in North Korea, on Sweden.
In other cases, the United States tasks other U.S. embassies with the job. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with or a diplomatic presence in Bhutan, and so consular assistance to U.S. citizens is handled by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, which communicates with the Bhutanese embassy in New Delhi.