In a troubling sign of potential imminent escalation, the US announced late on Monday night that the remaining diplomatic staff at the American embassy in Venezuela will be withdrawn by the end of the week, citing the ongoing and deteriorating political and humanitarian conditions in the socialist nation. Cited by Fox News, secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement came as Caracas grapples with continuing power outages and protests amid a deepening political crisis.
"Like the January 24 decision to withdraw all dependents and reduce embassy staff to a minimum, this decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy," read a statement obtained by Fox News.
In late January, all U.S. diplomats were ordered by Venezuela's embattled president Maduro to leave Venezuela in response to President Donald Trump’s support of challenger Guaido. However, Maduro retreated his decision and allowed them to stay. The U.S. still withdrew the dependents of embassy personnel as well as some of its staff.
The decision comes as Venezuela continues to grapple with a paralyzing power outage that began Thursday evening, leaving people with little power, water, and communications.
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.
Maduro said on a national television Monday night that progress had been made in restoring power in Venezuela, adding that two people who were allegedly trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details. According to the Venezuelan Union of Journalists (SNTP), one of the detained was Caracas-based journalist Luis Carlos Diaz, who was reportedly taken into custody while on his way home.
Maduro also accused the U.S. of sabotaging the power grid with a “cyberattack,” claims that Guaido and the U.S. have said are an attempt to divert attention from the government’s own failings. And while engineers restored power in some parts of Venezuela, it often goes out again.
The U.S. on Monday also imposed sanctions on a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies, alleging it tried to circumvent U.S. sanctions on the South American country. The U.S. said it is targeting Evrofinance Mosnarbank for supporting Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company previously targeted by sanctions in January.