US pulls last diplomats from Venezuela

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The US said late Monday that it is pulling its last remaining diplomats from Venezuela, saying their continued presence at the country's embassy in Caracas had become a “constraint” on US policy as the Trump administration aggressively looks to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The announcement came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet shortly before midnight comes as Venezuela struggles to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country.

The US has led an international effort to replace Maduro with Opposition Leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold a new presidential election. Guaido is backed by some 50 countries, while Maduro maintains support from countries such as China, Russia and Cuba.

Maduro had ordered all US diplomats to leave Venezuela in late January because of its support for Guaido, but he later retreated and allowed them to stay. The US still withdrew the bulk of embassy personnel, leaving a skeletal staff led by career foreign service officer James Story.

Pompeo said the remaining diplomats would be out of Venezuela by the end of the week but gave no indication of future policy steps despite past warnings that “all options” — including the use of military force — are on the table for removing Maduro.

The move came after another day of chaos as power outages that began last Thursday evening continued to cause problems for Venezuelans, leaving them with little power, water and communications.

People converged on a polluted river to fill water bottles in Caracas, and scattered protests erupted in several cities.

A three-year-old girl with a brain tumour 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 as Yalimar.

“The doctors told me that there are no miracles,” said Yalimar, who hopes her daughter can be transferred 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.

President Nicolas Maduro said on national television Monday night 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.

Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled congress, and the United States say Maduro's claims that the US. sabotaged the power grid with a “cyberattack” are an attempt to divert attention from the Government's own failings.


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