CARACAS (VENEZUELA): The US says it is pulling its last remaining diplomats from Venezuela, saying their continued presence at the embassy in Caracas had become a "constraint" on US policy as the Trump administration aggressively looks to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The announcement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet shortly before midnight Monday came as Venezuela struggles to restore electricity following five days of blackouts around the country.
Venezuela's government said on Tuesday that the decision followed a breakdown in negotiations and continued hostility from Washington.
Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said the continued presence of the US diplomats "entails risks for the peace, integrity and stability of the country."
"These are the same officials that have systematically lied to the world about Venezuela's reality and personally have directed fake, flag-waving operations to justify an intervention," he said in a statement.
Maduro's government in January cut ties with the US over its recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader. US officials rejected that on the rationale that Maduro had no authority to take such a step.
Maduro's government later retreated and allowed a skeletal staff to remain at the hilltop US Embassy in Caracas as the two countries attempted to negotiate an agreement to allow some sort of representation.
The failure of those talks is likely to aggravate tensions between the two countries.
Pompeo said the remaining diplomats would be out of Venezuela by the end of the week but gave no indication of future policy steps despite past warnings that "all options" — including the use of military force — are on the table for removing Maduro.
The move came after another day of chaos as power outages that began Thursday evening left Venezuelans with scant electricity, water and communications, abruptly worsening conditions in a nation already struggling with hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.
People converged on a polluted river to fill water bottles in Caracas, and scattered protests erupted in several cities
A 3-year-old girl with a brain tumor languished in a Caracas hospital, awaiting treatment after doctors started surgery but then suspended the operation when the power went out, according to the girl's fearful mother, who only gave her first name, Yalimar.
"The doctors told me that there are no miracles," said Yalimar, who hoped her daughter can be transferred to one of the few hospitals in Venezuela that would be able to finish the complex procedure.
Schools and many businesses remained closed on Tuesday.
Maduro said on national television Monday night that progress had been made in restoring power. He also said two people who were trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details. He earlier had blamed the outages on US "cyberattacks," though opponents said they were due to the government's failure to repair a decaying electrical grid.