World News

Nicolás Maduro Expels Top U.S. Diplomats from Venezuela

Posted May 22, 2018 6:59 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2018 7:00 p.m. EDT

CARACAS, Venezuela — Fresh off his re-election in what critics called a rigged vote, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela on Tuesday ordered the top American diplomat and his deputy expelled, describing them as conspirators against his government.

In a televised address, Maduro gave the diplomats, Todd D. Robinson, who is the U.S. Embassy’s chargé d’affaires, and Robinson’s No. 2, Brian Naranjo, 48 hours to leave, declaring them both persona non grata.

“This is in protest, in defense of Venezuelan dignity! Enough with the conspiracies,” Maduro said at an event where officials certified his re-election to a term ending in 2025.

The State Department said in a statement: “We reject completely the false allegations made by Maduro against Chargé Robinson and Deputy Chief of Mission Naranjo.”

Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, a reflection of the worsening state of relations between the two countries.

The expulsions added to Venezuela’s rupture not only with the United States but other big countries in the Western Hemisphere.

On Sunday Maduro was declared the victor by a lopsided margin, in a vote in which the most popular opposition candidates had been barred from running or jailed.

Most of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors rejected the result in a collective statement Monday.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Monday preventing U.S. companies or citizens from buying debts or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government. The order extended to Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company known as PDVSA. It has been troubled by deep production declines.

And before the vote, the United States ordered sanctions against Diosdado Cabello, a top figure in Maduro’s party, accusing him of drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and embezzling government money.

In the speech Tuesday, Maduro repeated claims that Venezuela’s economic woes — which include shortages of food, medicine and nearly all government services — have been caused by foreign powers trying to undermine his Socialist-inspired government. Now, he said, the outsiders were trying to undermine his victory.

“There have been 24 elections that have faced threats,” he said, referring to the elections since his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, won the presidency in 1998. “No one has gifted us victory, not today, not ever. We won it inch by inch, vote by vote.”

The last time Maduro expelled the U.S. Embassy’s top diplomat was in 2013, when Kelly Keiderling, the chargé d’affaires at the time and two other diplomats, were ordered to leave. He accused them of having supported plots to sabotage the economy and the electric grid, and meeting with “the Venezuelan extreme right wing.”

Robinson, the chargé d’affaires ordered expelled Tuesday, is a career diplomat who arrived in Caracas in December after serving as the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala.

In the lead-up to the vote, Robinson took a less confrontational tone than that coming from Washington Republicans, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who posted a picture of a prison jumpsuit after Cabello was sanctioned, implying that the Venezuelan would be jailed.

Last week Robinson met reporters to complain that American officials have not been allowed access to Joshua Holt, a 26-year-old American missionary who has been detained in Venezuela on accusations of stockpiling weapons.

Robinson did not comment on the election or Maduro.