U.S. orders some diplomats to leave Venezuela amid political turmoil

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

Pompeo pledges aid to Venezuela

Washington — The Trump administration ordered all non-essential American diplomatic staff and government personnel in Venezuela to leave the South American nation, which has been roiled by escalating political unrest. In a memo dispatched Thursday night, the State Department said "non-emergency" staff should leave the country because of security concerns.

The agency also advised all American citizens to "strongly consider" departing Venezuela.

A State Department spokesperson told CBS News the U.S. government plans to keep its embassy in Caracas opened, despite President Nicolás Maduro calling on all U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave Venezuela by Friday.

Echoing remarks made by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Thursday morning, the spokesperson said the Trump administration will maintain its diplomatic relationship with Venezuela through the office of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized by President Trump and other heads of states across the region as the country's interim president.

After the scathing rebuke by the White House on Wednesday, Maduro said his government would break diplomatic relations with the U.S. From the balcony of the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, he told his ardent supporters that American diplomats had 72 hours to leave the country.

But Guaidó, in a letter posted on Twitter the same day, asked foreign diplomatic personnel to remain in Venezuela. Late Wednesday night, Pompeo instructed America's diplomatic corps to stay in the country.

Large groups of demonstrators took to the streets on Wednesday to denounce Maduro's repressive government and its handling of the country's collapsing economy — once considered to be one of the strongest in Latin America. Since he succeeded fellow leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez in 2013, Maduro has consolidated power in the oil-rich nation by stacking the judiciary with his allies, overhauling the legislative branch and maintaining a tight grip on the military.

Through large anti-government demonstrations and the backing of the U.S. and other countries, Guaidó hopes to force Maduro to relinquish power. But for now, Venezuela's military leaders have vowed to stand behind Maduro's regime.

Christina Ruffini contributed to this report.

First published on January 25, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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