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A hand is seen over the national flag during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas A hand is seen over the national flag during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas 

US pulls diplomatic staff out of Venezuela

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces that all US diplomats will be pulled out of Venezuela, and that all options are now viable. There is an ominous and significant development in the crisis - critically damaging the economy, infrastructure and morale of an oil rich nation.

By James Blears

The tweeted announcement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the decision has been made due to the deteriorating situation, also starkly adding that the continued presence of US diplomats in Venezuela, is proving a constraint on US policy there. On January 23rd, Opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim President and the United States immediately recognized him. In response President Nicolas Maduro expelled all US diplomats, giving them seventy two hours to get out.

But he backed down after Pompeo announced that they were staying put, and that Maduro would be held directly responsible if anything happened to them. Since then non essential staff have been pulled out.

Listen to James Blears' report

The situation has taken a significant and further turn for the worse, with nationwide electricity blackouts which started last Thursday evening. The Guri hydroelectric plant in the State of Bolivar, is failing due to many years of neglect, under investment and failing maintenance, as part of the country`s crumbling infrastructure. Juan Guadio says Venezuela`s electricity system is vulnerable, fragile and unstable. President Maduro is blaming what he terms, US inspired and planned cyber attacks, saying that two people have been detained and are being questioned. Many more have been arrested for looting, as the lights go out. Even before the electricity failed, widespread acute food shortages were leading to desperation. Inflation is in six figures and expected to hit a million percent before year end. More than three million people have already left Venezuela and the exodus is gathering pace. US sanctions are biting ever deeper into an already crippled economy.

Nicolas Maduro won a close Presidential Election following the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. Last May he won another, as the Oppostion boycotted the entire process. Fifty countries now recognize Juan Guaido. But President Maduro is supported by Russia, China and the Venezuelan Military, which remains loyal, as the country collapses.

13 March 2019, 11:35