Maduro Expels Three U.S. Officials from Venezuela for Involvement in Destabilisation Plans

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By EWAN ROBERTSON , Mérida, 17th February 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com)

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has expelled three U.S. consular officials from the country due to suspected conspiracy with the conservative opposition. Meanwhile opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has announced he will lead another march against the government in Caracas tomorrow.

President Maduro informed the country of the decision to expel the U.S. officials during a national broadcast last night. He said the officials had organised meetings in private Venezuelan universities “with the story of offering visas”.

“While there, they [the officials] had some strange meetings, and as we have decided that we must be respected…let them go to Washington and conspire there, and leave Venezuela alone!” Maduro declared. The consular officials were given 48 hours to leave Venezuela.

The United States government rejected the accusations in a statement today. “The allegation that the United States is helping to organise protesters in Venezuela is baseless and false…Venezuela’s future is for the Venezuelan people to decide,” said a State Department spokesperson.

On Saturday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticised the Venezuelan government for arrests made during on-going opposition protests and violence, and for issuing an arrest warrant against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is wanted for his alleged role in last Wednesday’s violent clashes in Caracas. Kerry said the actions “have a chilling effect on citizen’s rights to express their grievances peacefully”.

That day the Venezuelan Ministry for Interior Affairs announced that of 120 people arrested in connection to violent protests, only fourteen remained in custody, to be charged with specific crimes such as carrying arms and setting fire to police vehicles.

Yesterday the Venezuelan government responded to Kerry’s criticisms, saying they were “one more maneuver of the Washington government to promote and legitimise the attempts to destabilise Venezuelan democracy that violent groups have unleashed in recent days”.

President Maduro also said that the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Alex Lee, had called Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chaderton, with a list of “demands” of how the Venezuelan government should proceed.

According to Maduro, these “instructions” were: release everyone arrested in recent protests, drop all charges against Leopoldo Lopez, and to engage in talks with the opposition. The Venezuelan president said his response to the U.S. was that these demand s were “insolent” and “unacceptable”, and that he “doesn’t accept threats from anyone”.

“In case anyone is in doubt, in Venezuela a plan is underway to create a political crisis and justify a state coup. We patriots must be clear where we stand, [and] what we represent in this moment of history,” the president declared. He also hit back at the U.S., saying that for the U.S. government human rights means “the right of the right-wing to overthrow legitimate governments”.

Venezuelan – U.S. relations have been frosty over the previous twelve years, with Venezuela accusing the U.S. of conspiring with the opposition and not respecting the country’s sovereignty. Last September Maduro also expelled three U.S. diplomats from Caracas for alleged conspiracy. The U.S. responded in kind, ordering three Venezuelan diplomatic officials to leave the country.

Investigations by lawyer and journalist Eva Golinger have revealed that the United States has provided funding and advice to the opposition during the Bolivarian era. “[The] U.S. budget for 2014 includes US $5 million for opposition groups in Venezuela (plus what they give in private),” Golinger tweeted yesterday, citing U.S. government documents.

Lopez to march again

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has announced that he will lead an opposition march tomorrow and will “show his face” to the government. Lopez has been in hiding since an arrest warrant was issued against him last Wednesday following violent clashes which left three dead. He is suspected of instigating and perpetrating violent acts that day, however denies all charges.

Lopez has been leading a movement within the opposition in recent weeks called “The Exit”, which seeks to force the government’s resignation through street mobilisations.

The opposition has held peaceful protests in many Venezuelan cities, while a sector of opposition supporters have engaged in street battles with police and created civil unrest through a range of violent actions. Opposition gatherings, both peaceful and violent, continue to occur daily in Caracas and some other parts of Venezuela.

On a video posted to You Tube yesterday with the hashtag #Resistance18F, Lopez said he would hold a “peaceful” march with supporters in central Caracas on Tuesday, then walk alone to the Ministry of Interior Affairs. “If there is a decision to illegally [sic] take me prisoner, I’ll be there to assume that persecution, and that vile decision of the state,” he declared.

Lopez also said he would hand in a petition of demands to the government, such as asking for the release of those arrested during recent violence and that “repression and persecution cease”.

Meanwhile President Maduro yesterday repeated the argument that the opposition’s strategy represents a “coup attempt”. He asked supporters and social movements to “fill the town squares of the country” with political, cultural and musical activities as part of plans to prevent “fascism” from returning to Venezuela. A concert is planned for the central Plaza Venezuela in Caracas tomorrow morning.

Further, pro-government mayor of the Libertador Municipality in central Caracas, Jorge Rodriguez, said today that the opposition had not requested to march through the area, and as such did not have permission to march toward the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

“We’re not going to allow hate to be spread through our city, nor are we going to let them attempt to incite and create violent events,” said the mayor.

Miguel Rodriguez, the minister of internal affairs, has also argued Lopez shouldn’t arrive at the ministry, as it is the Attorney General who has competence over his arrest and trial.

Lopez’s political party, Popular Will (VP), has called on other opposition forces to join them tomorrow, and has requested that the Catholic Church, foreign diplomats, and the “international community” accompany and observe the event.

Popular Will coordinator Carlos Vecchino said that the request was to ensure the “tranquility” of the march. “It is the state’s responsibility to guarantee the safety of all demonstrators and we want this to be as transparent as possible,” he said.

Meanwhile opposition state governor Henrique Capriles repeated yesterday that he would call another opposition march soon. He blamed the government for recent street violence, saying they had “infiltrated” opposition protests.

Vice President Jorge Arreaza disputed such accusations yesterday, arguing instead that the opposition’s Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition is “training and directing” the extremist groups. “Recognise the truth, distance yourselves from violence,” he exhorted through Twitter.