The State Department has also warned US citizens in Venezuela that they should “strongly consider” leaving the country, after Maduro said the US should pull their staff out of Caracas “if they had any sense.”
The Trump administration initially rejected Maduro’s ultimatum, claiming he lacks the authority to make such a decision after the US recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as acting head of state. Guaido, head of the National Assembly, proclaimed himself the rightful president and swore himself in on Wednesday, in a move which was immediately supported by Washington and its allies.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors in more than 10 years, but have maintained diplomatic staff in each other’s country until now. On Thursday, Venezuela ordered its embassy and consulates in the US to close. The State Department says its embassy will remain open.
With the backing of the White House, which announced it was ready to provide more than $20 million in humanitarian assistance to Venezuela through the “legitimate” Guaido-led government, the opposition leader has vowed to remove “usurper” Maduro from power.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has accused the US – and President Donald Trump personally – of fomenting a coup in Caracas, while Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino accused it of waging “economic war” on his country.
While Trump's move was supported by Washington's allies in Latin America, including Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro – Russia, China, Iran and NATO-member Turkey condemned US interference in Venezuela's domestic crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin said it constituted “destructive external interference that grossly violates the most basic norms of the international law.”
In what may shape up to be a major international incident over the next 48 hours, the United States has refused to withdraw diplomats from Venezuela, saying in a Wednesday evening statement that the US "stands with interim President Juan Guaido," adding "The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela. Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.
President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela officially cut off diplomatic ties with the U.S. government on Wednesday—and gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country—in response to President Donald Trump declaring formal recognition of an opposition lawmaker as the “Interim President” of Venezuela, despite not being elected by the nation’s people for that position.
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