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Venezuelan US defense attache breaks with Maduro as diplomats leave

Some US embassy staff left Caracas on Friday, and Venezuela was withdrawing staff from Washington on Saturday, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said in a statement

CARACAS: Venezuela’s top military envoy to the United States defected from the government of President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday, as the South American nation said the two countries had scaled back their diplomatic missions to skeleton staff.
The diplomatic friction was triggered by US recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Washington, Canada and most Latin American nations said Maduro’s second-term election win was fraudulent.
“Today I speak to the people of Venezuela, and especially to my brothers in the armed forces of the nation, to recognize President Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president,” Col. Jose Luis Silva said in a video, speaking in an office he said was at the embassy in Washington, decorated with the Venezuelan flag. Silva told Reuters by telephone he no longer recognized Maduro, and called for free and fair elections to be held.
US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis called the defection an example of the principle “that the role of the military is to protect constitutional order, not to sustain dictators and repress its own people. Encourage others to do the same.”
A 72-hour deadline issued by Maduro for US embassy personnel to leave Caracas expired on Saturday, after the embattled socialist leader broke off bilateral relations on Wednesday.
Some US embassy staff left Caracas on Friday, and Venezuela was withdrawing staff from Washington on Saturday, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The two countries will seek an agreement to replace the embassies with “Interest Offices” in their respective capitals within 30 days, the statement said. If they fail to reach an agreement, the remaining diplomatic staff will have to leave.
In the meantime, the remaining staff can only carry out their activities within the diplomatic missions, the statement said.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of the embassy in Caracas.
 

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