CARACAS, Venezuela – President Nicolas Maduro expelled the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and his deputy Tuesday, accusing them of conspiring against the socialist government and trying to sabotage the weekend presidential election.
“The empire doesn’t dominate us here,” Maduro said in a televised address, giving charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy, Brian Naranjo, 48 hours to leave the country. “We’ve had enough of your conspiring.”
Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela have mounted following Maduro’s victory in the presidential election Sunday, a vote that the White House and others have branded a sham.
Maduro said in his speech that Robinson and Naranjo, whom he referred to as the head of the CIA in Venezuela, both personally pressured several anti-government presidential aspirants not to compete in the race. Despite widespread discontent over Venezuela’s economic collapse, most opposition parties decided to boycott the election after officials blocked their most popular leaders from competing against Maduro.
Maduro also accused the Trump administration, which toughened financial sanctions on his government Monday, of seeking to escalate “aggressions” against the Venezuelan people. U.S. officials have also said the administration might consider imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela.
“The dominant and decisive reason why the opposition progressively withdrew from the elections was the decision by the extremist U.S. government to not validate or legitimize a presidential election that they knew fully was going to be won in any scenario by the candidate of Nicolas Maduro,” the president said.
Robinson was traveling in Venezuela’s western state of Merida when he learned through social media of Maduro’s order, according to a local radio broadcast of him speaking at an event. Robinson said he and his deputy “strongly reject the accusations.”
“This is my first visit but it won’t be my last visit to Merida or to Venezuela,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert echoed Robinson’s words during a briefing with reporters, saying that U.S. officials consider them “false allegations.”
Robinson, a career diplomat, has worked in Colombia, Bolivia, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. He earned a reputation for speaking out as ambassador to Guatemala and several times faced calls there for his expulsion.
He has been similarly plain-spoken in his short stay in Caracas.