Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has accused three U.S. consular officials of conspiring with opposition forces engaged in violent protests across the country, and vowed to expel them.
“We are determined to defend our country,” said Maduro in a televised speech on Sunday.
Initiated by people upset with the South American nation’s struggling economy and high murder rate, the now two-week-long protests have claimed at least three lives. Opposition leader Leopoldo López will lead a march on Tuesday despite an arrest warrant on charges of murder and terrorism.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says his government is “deeply concerned by rising tensions and violence” and “particularly alarmed” by Caracas’s arrest warrant for Lopez. The State Department said Monday that it had not received “any formal notification” of U.S. officials being expelled from Venezuela.
“The allegations that the United States is helping to organize protestors in Venezuela is baseless and false,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We support human rights and fundamental freedoms—including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly—in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world. But as we have long said, Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide.”
Venezuela has a long tradition of expelling diplomats from the U.S., a country with which it has not shared ambassador-level links since 2010.