Venezuela’s government has expelled the German ambassador, Daniel Kriener, after he and diplomats from other embassies welcomed home opposition leader, Juan Guaido at the Caracas airport.
The government declared Kriener persona non grata and gave him 48 hours to leave the country, accusing him of meddling in internal affairs, although it did not give specific details.
“Venezuela considers it unacceptable that a foreign diplomat carries out in its territory a public role closer to that of a political leader aligned with the conspiratorial agenda of extremist sectors of the Venezuelan opposition,” the government said in a statement.
Most Western countries, including Germany, recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state and back his plan to install a transition government ahead of free elections. Guaido denounces Maduro as an usurper whose re-election last year resulted from a sham vote. Maduro said that he is victim of an attempted coup.
German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas said European support for Guaido was “unwavering.”
“This is an incomprehensible decision, which escalates the situation instead of easing tensions,” Maas said in a statement.
Guaido had risked arrest on his return to Venezuela for flouting a court-imposed travel ban to visit other Latin American countries.
To try to hasten Maduro’s exit, the United States placed sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in late January, and last month attempted to ship humanitarian aid into Venezuela despite Maduro’s opposition, in the hopes it would prompt the military to flip its loyalty to Guaido.
The bid was ultimately unsuccessful, and Maduro retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions. The United States ratcheted up the pressure on Wednesday, with National Security Advisor John Bolton warning foreign banks that they could face sanctions if they participate in transactions benefiting Maduro.
The United States will also revoke the visas of 77 people associated with Maduro, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said, adding to a list of 49 others whose visas were revoked last Friday.
But Maduro has continued to defy the Trump administration. Venezuelan military counterintelligence agents detained American journalist Cody Weddle and his Venezuelan colleague Carlos Camacho early on Wednesday, Venezuela’s National Press Workers Union said on Twitter, adding that the government has arrested 36 journalists this year.
Weddle, who recently covered Guaido’s return to the country for Miami television station WPLG Local 10 News, was arrested at his home on charges of treachery, according to free speech group Espacio Publico. Agents took Weddle’s computer and equipment, the group said.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The move, which came a week after Venezuela deported a team from U.S. television network Univision, drew condemnation from Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro and Florida Senator Rick Scott.
“He must be released immediately and the U.S. will not stand for this kind of intimidation,” Scott, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.
Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, said on Twitter that the State Department was “aware of and deeply concerned with reports that another U.S. journalist has been detained in Venezuela,” without naming Weddle.
WPLG reported on its website that its management’s attempts to reach Weddle “have proven unsuccessful” and that his last contact with station employees was on Tuesday afternoon.