US pulls diplomatic staff from Venezuela

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that staff would be withdrawn from the Caracas embassy

The US will withdraw all diplomatic staff from Venezuela this week due to the “deteriorating situation” there, the state department has announced.

In a tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said having staff in Caracas had “become a constraint on US policy”.

The US ordered all non-essential staff to leave Venezuela in January amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis.

Widespread power cuts and a worsening humanitarian crisis have sparked mass protests.

The decision to vacate the embassy came late on Monday and followed critical comments Mr Pompeo made to reporters about Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Relations between the two countries have plummeted in recent months.

US President Donald Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president after he declared himself interim leader on 23 January. Venezuela then broke off diplomatic relations in response.

Mr Maduro gave US diplomats 72 hours to leave the country but the US said the “former president” no longer had the authority to order them out.

“Nicolás Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life in a socialist paradise,” Mr Pompeo said on Monday. “He delivered on the socialism part… the paradise part? Not so much.”

But in a televised address, Mr Maduro blamed the continuing power cuts on foreign sabotage.

“The United States’ imperialist government ordered this attack,” he said, without offering evidence.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed the US for the ongoing power outage

What’s the latest?

Much of Venezuela has been without power since last Thursday. The outage was reportedly caused by problems at the Guri hydroelectric plant in Bolívar state – one of the largest such facilities in Latin America.

Venezuela depends on its vast hydroelectric infrastructure, rather than its oil reserves, for its domestic electricity supply.

But decades of underinvestment have damaged the major dams, and sporadic blackouts are commonplace.

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People were detained by security forces after looting broke out during the blackout

The opposition says at least 17 people have reportedly died as a result of the blackout.

Over the weekend pro-government and opposition groups staged rival demonstrations and there were sporadic clashes with police.

Further protests are expected in the capital on Tuesday.

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A woman is detained by police during the power outage

What’s the background?

President Maduro has accused Mr Guaidó of trying to mount a coup against him with the help of “US imperialists”.

Mr Maduro has been in power since the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez, in 2013. He narrowly won a presidential election in April 2013 and was elected to a second term in May 2018 in an election which has been widely described as “neither free nor fair”.

In recent years Venezuela has experienced economic collapse, with severe food shortages and inflation reaching at least 800,000% last year.

The Maduro government is becoming increasingly isolated as more and more countries blame it for the economic crisis, which has prompted more than three million people to leave Venezuela.

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