President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of the top US diplomat in Venezuela following a new round of sanctions imposed by Washington over his re-election.
Maduro announced the move in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday after being officially proclaimed the winner of Sunday’s election.
“The empire doesn’t dominate us here,” Maduro said, giving charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy Brian Naranjo 48 hours to leave the country. “We’ve had enough of your conspiring.”
He accused the pair of trying to sabotage Venezuela’s presidential election by pressuring several anti-government presidential candidates not to compete in the race. Maduro referred to Naranjo as the head of the CIA in Venezuela.
The election was boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely criticised by the international community. Most opposition parties decided not to participate after officials blocked their most popular leaders from competing.
Maduro won 68 percent of the vote, but 52 percent of voters did not cast ballots – a historic abstention rate.
The White House branded the vote a “sham”, and US President Donald Trump issued an executive order limiting Venezuela’s ability to sell state assets, heightening pressure on Maduro’s cash-strapped government.
In his speech on Tuesday, Maduro angrily rejected the US move saying he repudiates “all the sanctions that are sought against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, because they harm it, they generate suffering for the people of Venezuela”.
He added: “We will present evidence to the country of the conspiracy in the military field of the United States charge d’affaires and his embassy, of the conspiracy in the economic field and of the conspiracy in the political field.”
There was no immediate reaction from Robinson or the US embassy in Caracas.
Washington and Caracas have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.
The latest US sanctions on Venezuela appeared to target in part Citgo, a US-based oil refinery owned by Venezuela state oil company PDVSA.
More obstacles to PDVSA’s ability to sell oil abroad could restrict already-dwindling foreign exchange earnings.
Venezuelans are reeling under an acute crisis with hyperinflation projected by the International Monetary Fund to reach 13,800 percent this year and dire shortages of food and medicine.
Hundreds of thousands have fled the country to escape the growing deprivation.
Earlier on Tuesday, Venezuela’s foreign ministry called the US sanctions “a crime against humanity”.
“Venezuela once again condemns the systematic campaign of aggression and hostility by the US regime to punish the Venezuelan people for exercising their right to vote,” the ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the European Union said it will consider imposing new sanctions on Venezuela as a result of Sunday’s vote.
Federica Mogherini, EU’s foreign policy chief, said in a statement “the EU and its member states will consider the adoption of adequate measures”.
The election took place “without complying with the minimum international standards for a credible process, not respecting political pluralism, democracy, transparency and rule of law”, it said.