BY MONIQUE VIEITES–A wave of anti-government protests is occurring in all parts of the South American country. Hundreds of Venezuelan students have taken the streets in protest against the deteriorating economy, shortages and rising crime. The objective is to expel Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. Maduro, who took office less than a year ago, has been adamant that he will not step down.
The demonstrators have clashed with security forces who have attempted to subdue the protests with water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas. The clashes have left some protesters dead and dozens injured or detained across the country. This, to no surprise, has only served to exacerbate the already tense situation.
Amid the growing chaos, the United States’ relationship with Venezuela is deteriorating. Venezuela has expelled three U.S. diplomats, accusing them of conspiring against the government to incite protests. Venezuelan authorities claim that the U.S. diplomats visited universities under the pretext of granting visas in order to promote student-led protests. The diplomats, Venezuela allege, would make contact with student leaders “to offer them training and financing to create youth groups that generate violence.” The U.S. State Department has called the allegations “‘baseless and false,’” adding that the U.S. supports free expression and peaceful assembly around the world. There are suggestions that the expulsions were motivated by the Obama administration’s support for Harvard-educated opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who President Maduro accuses of leading a U.S.-backed fascist plot to oust the socialist government. Lopez led the largest demonstration yet against President Maduro, when over 10,000 people poured onto the streets in a peaceful protest.
This is not the first time in recent years that Venezuela has ordered the expulsion of U.S. diplomats. The relationship between the United States and Venezuela has steadily deteriorated over the 14-year socialist rule. In early 2013, President Maduro expelled two U.S. diplomats hours before announcing the death of Hugo Chavez, claiming that the United States might have been behind the late socialist leader’s cancer. Also, in September 2013, President Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats for allegedly helping opponents sabotage the electrical grid.
In view of President Maduro’s expressed concerns that the United States is attempting to oust him from his Presidential capacity, there is little hope that the U.S.’s relations with Venezuela will improve in the near future. Only time will tell.