Venezuela expels Spanish ambassador after EU sanctions

CARACAS – Venezuela has declared Spain’s ambassador to Caracas “persona non grata,” accusing Madrid of committing “continuous aggressions” against President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist government.

The move to expel Jesus Silva Fernandez came a day after Caracas recalled its own ambassador to Spain following the European Union’s adoption of sanctions against seven senior Venezuelan officials, including a freeze on their assets and a ban on traveling to the EU.

The EU announced sanctions on seven members of President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government on Monday for alleged abuses of rights and democracy.

Venezuela “has decided to declare persona non grata the ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain to Venezuela… owing to its continuous aggressions and repeated acts of interference in the internal affairs of our country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Maduro’s government accuses Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of being one of the masterminds behind the sanctions, saying he was acting on instructions from the United States.

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Diplomats like Spanish ambassador Jesus Silva who are censured by being declared persona non grata are normally required to leave the country where they have been serving.

Spain and Venezuela have suffered from tense diplomatic ties since the late Socialist leader Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. He was succeeded on his death in 2013 by Maduro.

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Western nations and Latin American neighbors have been increasingly critical of President Maduro, accusing him of stamping on democracy and human rights. Venezuela accuses foreign governments of trying to encourage a right-wing coup.