A helmet wearing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro cheers motorcyclists during a rally in support of his government in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Since Feb. 12, opponents of President Nicolas Maduro have been staging countrywide protests that the government says have resulted in scores of deaths and more than more than a hundred injured. The demonstrators blame Maduro's administration for the country's high crime rate and economic troubles. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)AP2014
WASHINGTON (AP) – The State Department said Tuesday it has expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to last week's expulsion of three U.S. consular officials from Caracas.
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Venezuelan envoys First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos José García Figueredo, have 48 hours to leave the U.S.
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats from Caracas on Feb. 17, saying they were supporting opposition plots to overthrow him.
Psaki cited U.S. concerns about Venezuela's record of human rights and support for democracy, but said Washington remains open to a diplomatic relationship with Maduro.
"Venezuela also needs to show seriousness for us to be able to move forward," Psaki said. "And recent actions, including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult."
The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, though they have maintained embassies.
Since Feb. 12, Venezuelan opponents of Maduro have been staging countrywide protests that the government says have left at least 15 people dead and wounded about 150. Authorities have detained 579 people, of whom 45, including nine police officers and members of the National Guard, remain in custody.
Though violent protests have died down, Venezuela remains tense. Opposition protesters erected barricades to block traffic on major streets in Caracas and elsewhere Monday but there were no major clashes.