CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuela’s government has given the U.S. two weeks to slash the size of its mission here to 17 diplomats as tensions between the two nations rise.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez made the announcement Monday after a rare meeting with the top American diplomat in Caracas. She said it is up to the U.S. to decide which of an estimated 100 diplomats stationed here it wishes to send home, making clear that the goal is to strike a balance with the 17 Venezuelan diplomats that serve in the U.S.
President Nicolas Maduro announced over the weekend that his socialist government had detained Americans on suspicion of spying and would be taking steps to shrink and curtail the movement of the U.S. Embassy staff he accuses of plotting with the opposition to oust him.
The U.S. has not exchanged ambassadors with the South American country since 2010 so the American Embassy was represented by Chargé d’Affaires Lee McClenny. Reflecting the distant state of relations between the two nations, McClenney’s name was twice misspelled as “Clenny” in government statements before Monday’s meeting, though Rodriguez described it as cordial.
Maduro regularly rails against the U.S. for meddling in his country’s affairs, and has taken to leading weekly chants of “Gringo, go home.”
On Saturday, he laid out a series of measures against U.S., including a promise to impose a visa requirement for American tourists and ban the entry of conservative Republicans such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Marco Rubio.
Meanwhile, four North Dakota missionaries detained and then deported from Venezuela last week were recovering on the nearby island of Aruba Monday. Their pastor said they were expected home Tuesday.
It’s unclear whether the missionaries were the Americans Maduro was referring to when he said the government had arrested U.S. citizens engaged in espionage. Maduro also said the government had detained a U.S. pilot of Latino origin who was “carrying all kinds of documentation.” U.S. officials have declined to comment on the identity of the pilot and it’s been impossible to obtain additional information.