The United States and Venezuela were locked in a tense international standoff Thursday as the Trump administration kept embassy staff in the country despite an official order to eject them, and Russia demanded that the Americans cease “intervention” in the teetering oil-rich nation.
Moscow and Beijing have propped up the socialist South American state for years, investing billions through loans and energy deals and setting up what is now a dramatic global power play over Venezuela’s future. On Wednesday, Washington recognized Juan Guaidó, head of the U.S.-backed opposition, as the rightful leader of Venezuela, describing President Nicolás Maduro — a former union leader and bus driver accused of turning Venezuela into a narco-state — as a usurper.
The move prompted Maduro on Wednesday to break ties with Washington and order U.S. diplomats out of the country by this weekend. Arguing that Maduro had won reelection last year through fraud and is no longer Venezuela’s rightful leader, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected Maduro’s order and indicated that U.S. personnel would not budge.
Maduro on Thursday received the public backing of a flurry of generals and senior officials, and taunted President Trump as he vowed to hold on to power. He declared he would recall all staff from Venezuela’s embassy in Washington and its seven consulates in the United States. He reiterated his demand that all U.S. Embassy personnel in Caracas depart by this weekend, calling Washington “infantile” for rejecting his order. He pointedly sidestepped the consequences for remaining. [Continue reading…]