The Venezuelan government has expelled three senior US diplomats, accusing them of conspiring with the right-wing opposition to "sabotage" the country's economy.
In a typically incendiary and hyperbolic statement, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed to have evidence that Kelly Keiderling, David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman helped sabotage a power-grid sabotage in September and had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down production.
"Out of Venezuela! Yankees go home! Enough of abuse against the dignity of a peace-loving nation," he declared Tuesday, during an official ceremony at the city of Santa Ana.
As the United States' charge d'affaires in Caracas, Keiderling is the most senior US diplomat, after former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez refused a visa to then-incoming ambassador Larry Palmer, over remarks he had made about cooperation between the Venezuelan government and left-wing rebels in Colombia.
The US embassy unequivocally denied the accusations, saying that this was the first it had even heard of them.
“We have seen Maduro’s televised announcement but we have not received any official notification of expulsions,” said a U.S. State Department spokesperson, adding, “We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuela government.”
Venezuela is currently facing a severe economic crisis, including shortages of several basic goods, something the opposition blames on Maduro's left-wing policies. Maduro's claims echo the sentiment of his predecessor, who regularly launched anti-US tirades in what many critics saw as an attempt to deflect criticism of problems at home.
Maduro took office as interim president when Hugo Chavez was terminally ill with cancer, and was elected president in April, narrowly defeating opposition leader Henrique Capriles.