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U.S. expels two Venezuelan diplomats: official

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States has expelled two Venezuelan diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after Caracas ordered two U.S. Air Force officers out of the country, a U.S. official told AFP on Monday.

Second Secretary Orlando José Montanes and consular official Victor Tamacaro were declared “personas non grata” by the United States on Saturday and left the country Sunday, the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

A spokesman contacted by AFP did not give any explanation for the expulsion of the Venezuelan diplomats, saying simply that the Vienna conventions allow anybody to be declared “persona non grata.”

The expulsion came just 24 hours after the funeral of ex-President Hugo Chávez, who died last week after losing his battle with cancer, adding a new wrinkle to the already strained relations between the two countries.

The two countries have not had ambassadors in their respective capitals since 2010, and diplomatic relations have not normalized despite several direct contacts between the governments.

Venezuela will hold a new presidential vote on April 14, with newly sworn-in interim President Nicolas Maduro – Chavez’s handpicked successor – the heavy favorite to win.

It was Maduro who last week announced the expulsion of two U.S. military attaches – shortly before he announced the death of President Chávez.

Maduro accused the Americans of acting to destabilize the country, going as far as to suggest the U.S. was behind the cancer that killed Chávez.

The U.S. State Department branded the allegations “absurd.”

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