CARACAS, Venezuela — The United States will withdraw its remaining diplomatic personnel from its embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, escalating a rupture in relations between the two nations as the socialist South American country plunged deeper into chaos.
The move marks a full breakdown in bilateral relations, and comes at a time when Venezuela appears to be socially unraveling amid a nationwide blackout and critical water shortages that have worsened already dire conditions and ramped up risk levels in a nation that is fast becoming a failed state.
“This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy,” Pompeo said in statement late Monday.
Fears of a Libya-style collapse in Venezuela are growing, a threat that has raised the specter of the 2012 assault on the American compound in Benghazi that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.
Armed pro-government militias known as “colectivos” have escalated attacks in recent weeks, opening fire on civilians and terrorizing communities.
Though tense for years, U.S.-Venezuela ties began an accelerated unraveling in January, when the Trump administration called for President Nicolas Maduro to resign and recognized opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate leader. In response, Maduro ordered the expulsion of U.S. diplomats.
The United States in January also slapped powerful sanctions on Venezuela’s pivotal oil sector, effectively cutting off the nation’s single largest source of hard currency — oil sales to the United States.
A temporary agreement allowed a small number of personnel to remain in Washington and Caracas as the nations sought to establish more limited interest sections. In late February, both sides agreed to an extension of a 30-day negotiation period. But Pompeo’s decision suggests the two nations have reached an impasse on attempts to maintain some level diplomatic presence, and the full withdrawal raised immediate questions about the status of the sprawling U.S. Embassy complex on a picturesque hill in Caracas.
The decision comes as conditions in Venezuela — already suffering through a humanitarian crisis as hyperinflation and food and medical shortages ravage the nation — has sharply worsened. The country has been crippled by a five-day power outage that has plunged much of the nation into darkness, even as water supplies have stopped flowing.