Venezuela Claims to Recall Top U.S. Diplomat over Sanctions

Venezuela President Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday he is recalling the nation’s charge d’affaires from Washington in protest of President Obama’s renewal of an executive order imposing sanctions on the socialist government. Officials in the State Department, however, have told media they are unaware of any official order to Maximilien Arvelaiz to return to Caracas.

“Obama had enough changes to rectify,” Maduro said in a speech at a rally against the executive order, which freezes the assets of a number of high-ranking Venezuelan officials in the United States as punishment for participating in violence against civilian protesters and human rights violations. He went on to blame “the right-wing oligarchy” for the executive order, vowing his government would “continue the anti-imperialist struggle in the Bolivarian sense.” “Enough of the arrogance, prepotency and intrigue,” he demanded.

In addition to rescinding his top diplomat, Maduro announced a new “Integral Anti-Imperialist Plan” against the United States, though he did not specify what the plan would consist of.

An official for the U.S. State Department issued a statement to CNN noting that United States officials “continue to have diplomatic relations with Venezuela and remain willing to engage with all sectors of Venezuela, including the executive branch.” “The United States continues to support democracy, stability, and prosperity in Venezuela and the region,” he added.

State Department officials tell Spain’s EFE newswire service, however, that no formal request to withdraw Arvelaiz has arrived in Washington “for the moment.” While Maduro is expected to follow through on rescinding his top diplomat in the United States, Arvelaiz’s status is currently unclear.

The United States and Venezuela have not shared ambassadors since 2010, when dictator Hugo Chávez cut such formal ties. In his in-between state, Reuters notes, Arvelaiz has previously protested that he feels like “I’m in a plane and every five minutes I need to put my seatbelt on because of the turbulence.”

President Obama issued an executive order in March 2015 declaring Venezuela a “national security threat” due to repeated human rights abuses on the part of the Venezuelan government against peaceful anti-socialist protesters. The executive order imposed sanctions on the heads of national police agencies and urged Maduro to change his policies against Venezuelan opposition. President Obama renewed the order on Wednesday. In a statement, the White House described Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” and clarified that sanctions were not intended to hurt the people of Venezuela, but “persons involved in or responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations.”

Upon issuance of the executive order, President Maduro announced he would collect ten million signatures demanding President Obama repeal the order and hand them to him personally at that year’s Summit of the Americas. In order to collect the signatures, Venezuelan authorities threatened government workers to sign or face being fired. Those who signed were eligible to participate in a contest to win a chicken.

Despite using coercion to collect the signatures, Maduro failed to reach his goal of ten million and did not deliver the signatures to President Obama at the summit.

Unlike last year, however, Venezuela’s socialist government has one vocal supporter in its corner: the communist government of Cuba. President Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba on March 21 and meet with dictator Raúl Castro, following a normalization process that began in December 2014 with President Obama announcing a series of concessions to the Castro dictatorship, including the removal of Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list. In a 3,000-word screed Wednesday, the editorial board of state-run propaganda newspaper Granma demanded President Obama repeal the executive order against Venezuela. The article also demanded President Obama gift the Castros America’s Guantánamo Bay military facility and censor American broadcasts against the Castro regime.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that President Obama is preparing to announce more economic concessions to Cuba before his visit, to “make a splash on the economic front.”