The Venezuelan government on Wednesday ordered the German ambassador to leave the country after he expressed support for Juan Guaido, escalating a diplomatic standoff with a group of about 50 nations that recognize the opposition leader as the country’s interim president.
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted a statement saying Ambassador Daniel Kriener interfered in Venezuela’s internal affairs and allied himself with “extremist sectors” of the opposition.
Venezuela considers it unacceptable that a foreign diplomat would take on “a public role more appropriate to that of a political leader,” the government statement said. It gave Kriener 48 hours to leave the country.
At the country’s main airport, Kriener spoke to journalists and said he hoped the leader of the National Assembly would be safe. There were concerns that the opposition leader might face detention, but Maduro’s government did not move against him.
‘An incomprehensible decision’
After the expulsion order, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he had decided to recall Kriener to Berlin for consultations.
“This is an incomprehensible decision that aggravates the situation and does not contribute to de-escalation,” Maas said in a statement.
“Our, Europe’s, support for Juan Guaido is unbroken. Ambassador Kriener is doing excellent work in Caracas, including in recent days.”
In a speech at the National Assembly, Guaido condemned the expulsion of the ambassador.
“They’re threatening an important European country that is providing humanitarian help to Venezuela,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said the U.S. will revoke more visas from prominent Venezuelans as it seeks to increase pressure on Maduro to give up power.
Pence told the Latino Coalition that the U.S. will revoke 77 visas held by officials in the Maduro government or their relatives, saying “the time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba.”
Guaido says Maduro ignoring him
The U.S. revoked 49 visas last week and has imposed multiple rounds of sanctions as part of a campaign to force Maduro to turn over power to Guaido.
Guaido has said Maduro has effectively been ignoring him since his return to Venezuela in hopes that his political momentum will fade. On Tuesday, Maduro belittled his opponents as “opportunists and cowards,” but did not mention Guaido by name.
The adversaries have announced rival demonstrations on Saturday as they seek to motivate supporters.
Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties with neighbouring Colombia after Maduro’s security forces blocked a Feb. 23 attempt by Guaido and allies to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil.
He also broke diplomatic relations with the United States after it recognized Guaido as interim president in late January, initially giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. The Trump administration refused to obey Maduro’s order.
The U.S., Germany and some 50 other countries consider Maduro’s re-election invalid and have urged him to step aside so the country can prepare for elections. Maduro says he is the target of a U.S.-backed coup plot.