Sat, Mar 16, 2019 - Page 7 News List

US diplomats leave Venezuela

BLACKOUT ENDS:Public transportion restarted and lights came on in Caracas after a nearly a week, while an official said that schools would reopen on Monday

AP, CARACAS

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido reaches toward a baby at a rally in Caracas on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

The last remaining US diplomats in Venezuela on Thursday left the country amid deteriorating ties between Washington and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

“I know it is a difficult moment for them,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said of the departing diplomats.

He said they would continue to carry on their “mission from other locations, where they will continue to help manage the flow of humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people.”

He said the US remains committed to supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president, and is trying to oust Maduro and hold what he says would be free and fair elections.

“We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins,” Pompeo said in a statement.

A convoy was seen leaving the US embassy in Caracas on Thursday morning and the US flag was no longer flying outside the complex.

The diplomats left the country on a chartered civilian aircraft.

James Story, who was the top-ranking US diplomat in Venezuela, said in a video message that most Venezuelans do not support Maduro and that the Venezuelan government had used “the threat of armed gangs” against its people.

“How can they talk about democracy when they systematically violate the constitution, disable political parties, imprison opposition leaders and persecute anyone who dares to raise their voice in opposition?” Story said.

Earlier this week, Maduro praised Story for his professional conduct.

However, the Venezuelan government had described the remaining US diplomats as a threat to the country’s peace and stability.

Meanwhile, businesses reopened and public transportation resumed in parts of Venezuela where power was restored, ending nearly a week of the country’s worst blackouts.

Venezuelan Minister of Information Jorge Rodriguez said that schools would reopen on Monday.

The government says the national power grid is functioning well and that running water has returned to most of the country, although some areas reported continuing problems.

Some neighborhoods in the northwestern city of Maracaibo, where massive looting occurred during the outages, still did not have power. The subway began operating in the capital, Caracas, although not all of its stations were open.

Maduro blamed the blackouts on alleged sabotage engineered by the US and the Venezuelan opposition.

US officials and Guaido said the allegation is absurd, and that government corruption and mismanagement caused the infrastructure collapse in a country already facing hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods.

Pompeo tweeted earlier in the week that the US diplomats were being withdrawn because their continued presence in Caracas had become a “constraint” on US policy.

He did not clarify what he meant by that remark.

The Venezuelan government disputed Pompeo’s account, saying it had instructed the US diplomats to leave.

Maduro accuses Guaido and the US of plotting an invasion.

The US has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry as well as individuals linked to Maduro’s government, and US President Donald Trump has said “all options are on the table” in his administration’s support for Guaido.

Also on Thursday, Russia’s Gazprombank said it was pulling out of a joint venture with PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, Russian state media reported. Russia is an ally of Maduro, but its oil interests in Venezuela have been jeopardized since the Trump administration hit PDVSA with sanctions in January.

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