Sunday, December 15, 2019

U.S. orders all Americans in Venezuela to leave the country

The U.S. State Department ordered all nonemergency government staff out of Venezuela yesterday and advised other Americans in the country to leave.

The security alert came a day after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered the U.S. to close its embassy in Caracas and get all of its diplomatic employees out of the country. Maduro gave them 72 hours to leave after President Trump announced Wednesday that the U.S. no longer recognizes the Maduro government.

The U.S. is keeping its embassy in Venezuela open, according to the State Department announcement; “This is a reduction in staff but not a closing of the embassy,” the alert says.

U.S. citizens traveling or living in the country were also advised to “strongly consider departing”. Prior to the announcement, a former career diplomat said the Trump administration should remove personnel without delay to reduce risk to Americans stationed there.

“What we really need to start telling citizens is: ‘This is the time to get out. This is the time to prepare,’” said Brett Bruen, who served in Venezuela and whose most recent government posting was as director of global engagement during the Obama administration. The simmering conflict erupted into a full-blown crisis on Wednesday when Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president and the U.S. and several other countries threw their support behind him.

Longtime Venezuela watcher Brian Fonseca, a professor at Florida International University and an expert on that country’s military, said he believes Maduro’s order for U.S. personnel to leave “was probably a big miscalculation, “I don’t think he’s going to arrest them, take them hostage, march them to the airport,” said Fonseca. “I think they will stop short of any provocation that will justify Rubio asking Trump to send in the Marines.”

Fonseca said ultimately it will be the Venezuelan military that decides whether Maduro stays or goes. “The military holds the key to any transition,” he said. “It is easily the most respected institution in Venezuela.”

NBC NEWS