Having been 'busted' for their manipulation of events in Ukraine (and exposing their views of the European Union), it seems US diplomats have been up to their old tricks once again... this time in Venezuela. "Go Conspire In Washington," was the clear message sent to the US as President Maduro expelled three US diplomats from his country, accusing them of plotting with anti-government protesters in an attempt to topple his socialist government. This is the second time Maduro has kicked out US diplomats (3 more were expelled in September for 'conspiring with government opponents') as he blasted comments by John Kerry as "yet another maneuver" by Washington to "legitimize attempts to destabilize the Venezuelan democracy unleashed by violent groups in recent days."
An anti-government student holds a sign reading "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way. Venezuela wake up!" during a protest in Caracas.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused Washington of plotting with anti-government protesters and expelled three US diplomats in retaliation.
The oil-rich country is mired in a deep economic crisis that critics blame on policies that Maduro largely inherited from Chavez.
Strict controls on currency and prices have created huge bottlenecks that have fueled inflation and emptied store shelves.
"I have ordered the foreign ministry to proceed with declaring those three consular officials persona non grata and expelling them from the country. Let them go conspire in Washington!" Maduro said in a nationally broadcast address.
Maduro said the US diplomats, who have not been named, had met with students involved in anti-government protests under the pretense of offering them "visas to the United States."
In late September Maduro kicked out three other US diplomats, including the charge d'affairs Kelly Keiderling, on accusations of conspiring with government opponents. The two countries have had no ambassadors since 2010.
A foreign ministry statement also said that Maduro's government "flatly rejects" remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday voicing alarm at the violence during the marches and criticizing the arrest of protesters.
Kerry's statement is "yet another maneuver" by Washington to "legitimize attempts to destabilize the Venezuelan democracy unleashed by violent groups in recent days," the ministry said.
Of course, it makes sense for Maduro to pitch blame on to the Americans (whether they are to blame or not) as he faces a growing tension among the working Venezuelans that the status quo is not working and a common enemy is required...
As we noted previously (via Stratfor):
The challenge that the student movement will face is in finding a way to include Venezuela's laboring class, which for the most part still supports the government, and relies on its redistributive policies. Their inability to rouse broad support across Venezuela's social and economic classes was in part why previous student uprisings, including significant protests in 2007, failed to generate enough momentum to trigger a significant political shift.
But the situation has changed in Venezuela, and as the economic situation deteriorates there is a chance that protests like this could begin to generate additional social momentum in rejection of the status quo. President Nicolas Maduro has been in office for less than a year, and in that time the inflation rate has surged to over 50 percent and food shortages are a daily problem. Though firmly in power, the Chavista government is still struggling to address massive social and economic challenges. Massive government spending, years of nationalization and an overreliance on imports for basic consumer goods have radically deteriorated inflation levels, and undermined industrial production.
How the government responds will play a key role in the development of these protests going forward. The government cannot afford to crack down too hard without risking even worse unrest in the future. For its part, the mainstream opposition must walk a careful line between supporting the sentiment behind open unrest and being seen as destabilizing the country. Maduro retains the power to punish opposition politicians, and reaffirmed that Feb. 11 when he stated on national television that he intends to renew the law allowing him to outlaw political candidates who threaten the peace of the country. The statement was a clear shot over the bow of opposition leaders, and may foreshadow a more aggressive government policy designed to limit political opposition.
In the meantime, protest leader Leopoldo Lopez said he'll surrender on Feb 18th -
"If anyone has decided to illegally arrest and jail me, you know I will be there," he said. "I have nothing to fear; I have not done anything illegal."
as plain clothes policeman were in the back of a pick-up outside the home of the father of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Reports said the government wants to arrest him in connection with deadly street protests in recent days. “I have committed no crime,” said Lopez. “I have been a Venezuelan committed to our country, our people, and our future.” Earlier, Lopez called Maduro a coward on Twitter. “You won’t make either me or my family bow to you,” he added.