The US State Department says the government of President Nicolas Maduro is blocking US citizens from leaving Venezuela, including dual nationals, after the United States attempted to arrange evacuation flights that Washington says are for "humanitarian" needs.
"We have made offers in the past that would allow U.S. citizens to leave, but all were rejected by Maduro and his cronies," US State Dept. spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a written statement.
She said the US is currently exploring other options for getting Americans back safely to US soil, though without giving numbers of Americans stuck inside the Latin American country.
Caracas appears to be disputing these claims, however, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza stating on Thursday that the government has offered to return American citizens via flights on state-owned airline Conviasa.
Ironically, the standoff appears centered on the fact that Conviasa remains under far-reaching Venezuela sanctions which have been in effect over the past year.
A US diplomat based in neighboring Colombia alleged that Maduro was keeping the Americans "hostage". James Story of the State Department's Venezuela Affairs Unit gave in indication last week that the standoff could involve up to 1000 people or more.
"I have more than 800 people who have asked for my support in helping leave the country," he said, according to Reuters.
So it appears the repatriation issue is centered on the Maduro government finding a creative way and leverage to highlight how destructive the sanctions regimen is on the country in what's essentially a "use our state-owned airline or else it's not our problem" moment.
The crisis of the stranded Americans comes as not only sanctions are further crushing the already spiraling socialist economic and system, including derelict public infrastructure, but after the bizarre failed "invasion" attempt of a group of former Green Berets turned mercenaries on May 4. Two Americans were given 20 year prison sentences each, in a plot the Trump administration insists it had nothing to do with.