Venezuela expels US envoy over fresh sanctions

CARACAS – President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Venezuela in retaliation for a new round of sanctions over Venezuela’s widely condemned election.

The 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez won re-election easily, but critics said the vote was riddled with irregularities, from the barring of two popular opposition rivals to the offering of a government “prize” to voters.

President Donald Trump responded with an executive order limiting Venezuela’s ability to sell state assets, heightening pressure on the cash-strapped government.

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Accusing U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson of being involved in “a military conspiracy”, Maduro ordered him and another senior diplomat, Brian Naranjo, to leave within 48 hours, the Reuters reported.

He gave no details of the accusations, but said the US embassy had been meddling in military, economic and political issues, and vowed to present evidence to the nation shortly.

“Neither with conspiracies nor with sanctions will you hold Venezuela back,” Maduro said on Tuesday at an event in downtown Caracas at the headquarters of the election board, which is run by government loyalists.

Earlier on in the day, Venezuela’s foreign ministry called the sanctions “a crime against humanity”. Maduro’s socialist administration, which has long said a US-led “economic war” is to blame for a deep crisis in the OPEC nation, said the new sanctions violated international law.

“Venezuela once again condemns the systematic campaign of aggression and hostility by the US regime to punish the Venezuelan people for exercising their right to vote,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “These arbitrary and unilateral measures constitute a crime against humanity.”

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Venezuela’s opposition has accused the Maduro government of behaving immorally and trying to hide shortcomings and corruption behind bombastic rhetoric. The mainstream opposition coalition boycotted Sunday’s vote, calling it a sham aimed at legitimising Maduro’s rule despite his low popularity.

The United States, European Union and most major Latin American nations have all said Sunday’s vote did not meet democratic standards.