CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro said Monday that his government was expelling the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and two other embassy employees for allegedly conspiring with the political opposition.
Maduro made the announcement during a live TV appearance and said the Americans would have 48 hours to leave the country.
In naming the three diplomats he pronounced clearly the name of Kelly Keiderling, the charge d'affaires and top U.S. diplomat in the country though he did not specify her position. The other two diplomats' names were less clearly enunciated.
Venezuela and the United States have been without ambassadors since 2010, when the late President Hugo Chavez refused to accept a newly named U.S. ambassador.
The U.S. Embassy had not yet been officially informed of the expulsions when Maduro announced them, said Gregory Adams, its acting deputy chief of mission.
"I have asked Foreign Minister Elias Jaua to proceed with their immediate expulsion from the country," Maduro said. "They have 48 hours to leave the country."
"Out of Venezuela," the leftist leader said in Spanish, then added: "Yankees go home," in English.
"I don't care what actions the government of Barack Obama takes," he said. "We're not going to permit an imperialist government to come and bring money and see how basic companies can be halted and see how to take away electricity and shut down all of Venezuela."
Maduro, like Chavez, has a history of making unsubstantiated accusations against the United States and his political opponents.
Last week, he said he had canceled a planned trip to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly due to an unspecified U.S. plot.
The last time Venezuela expelled U.S. diplomats was on March 5, when it ejected two military attaches for allegedly trying to destabilize the nation. That move came several hours before Maduro announced that Chavez had died of cancer.
Chavez governed Venezuela for 14 years, solidifying control of all branches of government as he won solid backing from the poor with generous social spending and blamed the United States for an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him in 2002.
In recent years, however, the oil-rich country's woes have been compounded by corruption, rampant violent crime, worsening power outages and increasing shortages of food and medicines.
At the same time, Maduro's government has been accused by international human rights and press freedom groups of cracking down on free speech and independent media political activity
Maduro narrowly won election in April over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles, who claims the victory was fraudulent.