US-Venezuela relations strain after Maduro detains Americans for spying

World Today

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Saturday an unspecified number of Americans were arrested “a few days ago” for engaging in espionage and recruitment activities. CCTV’s Martin Markovits reported from Caracas.

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro announced he would be shrinking the size of the U.S. embassy, require visas for visiting Americans, and his government’s prior approval for meetings by U.S. diplomats.

The announcement of Venezuelan restrictions, made Saturday at a rally dubbed the Great Anti-Imperialist March.

“We’ve detected activity and we have captured some U.S. citizens in undercover activities, in hidden activities, espionage, trying to win over people in towns along the Venezuelan coast, trying to win over people in some neighborhoods. In Táchira, we captured a pilot of a U.S. plane of Latin origin with all sorts of documentation,” Maduro said.

Maduro, in recent weeks, has accused Washington and Venezuela’s opposition of trying to organize a coup to force him out of office. He recently arrested Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma for his alleged role in the plot and also briefly detained four U-S missionaries for possible espionage activity.

At Saturday’s rally Maduro said these incidents prompted him to enact new restrictive measures against Washington. This includes visa requirements for U.S. citizens and a reduction of U-S embassy personnel in Caracas.

Since a U.S. backed coup in 2002 that briefly removed Maduro’s predecessor and mentor the late Hugo Chavez from power, Caracas and Washington have had strained relations. Since then, the U.S. and Venezuela have recalled their ambassadors and recently Washington levied sanctions on Caracas, for Maduro’s tough response to last year’s violent opposition protests.

But despite being political enemies, the U.S. and Venezuela still have deep economic relations and it’s unlikely tougher sanctions, targeting Venezuela’s oil exports, will be implemented anytime soon.

“They have been saying that they would stop selling oil to the United States. But we have been hearing this since Chavez was president in 2000,” Venezuela Central University Political Science professor Ennio Cardozo said. “Now, 15 years have passed and Venezuela is still is selling oil to the U.S. It is because we are completely dependent on the U.S. and it is our biggest economic partner.”

Both the United States and Venezuela’s opposition have denied plotting to overthrowing Maduro. Both say Caracas is using these allegations as a smokescreen to distract the people from the country’s deep economic problems.

Latin America policy expert Jason Marczak discusses the future of US-Venezuela relations

CCTV America’s Susan Roberts interviewed Latin America policy specialist and representative from the Atlantic Council’s Latin America Center Jason Marczak. He discussed the strains between the U.S. and Venezuela and the future of US-Venezuela relations.