U.S. Orders Relatives of Embassy Staff in Venezuela to Leave Country

This post was originally published on this site

The State Department on Thursday ordered family members of American government employees working at the United States Embassy in Caracas to leave the country and gave the employees the option to join them before a controversial vote to begin rewriting Venezuela’s Constitution.

The State Department said it had made the decision, along with an expanded travel warning, “due to social unrest, violent crime and pervasive food and medicine shortages” in Venezuela.

The warning comes as the United States and Venezuela approach a showdown over a vote scheduled for Sunday that could lead to a restructuring of Venezuela’s government.

President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the creation of a new body, known as a constituent assembly, which would rule above all other government branches for a period of time in which it would also rewrite the Constitution. Critics of the plan, including the Trump administration, describe the vote as a power grab that would lay the groundwork for a dictatorship.

On Wednesday, the administration issued sanctions against 13 Venezuelans connected to Mr. Maduro, including his interior minister and leaders of the army. President Trump has warned that if Mr. Maduro proceeds with the vote, he will impose “strong and swift economic actions.”

On Thursday, Mr. Maduro mocked Mr. Trump in front of supporters.

“Mr. Trump, go home! Mr. Trump, go home!” Mr. Maduro shouted in English to a large crowd, calling him an “emperor.”

On Friday, Mr. Maduro’s opponents plan to send people to the streets for a last-ditch effort to protest the vote. It marks the latest in three months of continuous demonstrations against the president and his leftist government that have left more than 100 dead, many in clashes between security forces and protesters.

Before the protests, the government flooded the streets with riot police and national guardsmen and ordered a blanket ban on public gatherings, promising prison sentences for those who disobeyed.

In a travel warning issued Thursday, the State Department also said that Venezuelan security forces had arrested “individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long period with little or no evidence of a crime” or “access to proper medical care, clean water and food.”