The United States has expelled two Venezuelan diplomats in retaliation for Venezuela's having last week ordered two U.S. military attaches to leave the South American oil exporter, a U.S. official said on Monday.
The official, who declined to be identified, said that in response to Venezuela's move the United States had declared Second when Secretary Orlando Jose Montanez Olivares and Consular Officer Victor Camacaro Mata to be personae non gratae, using the formal term for the decision to expel another nation's diplomats.
"We have received word from the Venezuelan Embassy that they have departed the United States," said the official.
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced the expulsion of the two U.S. military attaches on Tuesday hours before he told the world that Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's long-time and stridently anti-American leader, had died.
Maduro, Chavez's chosen successor, said on Tuesday one of the expelled U.S. diplomats tried to stir up a military plot against Chavez. He also said Chavez's cancer was an attack by Venezuela's enemies - an accusation Washington deemed absurd.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been without an ambassador since 2010, when Chavez rejected the U.S. appointee. That led Washington to revoke the credentials of Venezuela's ambassador.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement shortly after Chavez's death was announced, expressing an interest in a "constructive relationship" in the post-Chavez era. But analysts said Washington would be challenged to figure out a way to engage with Venezuelan leaders and the opposition without appearing to meddle in the South American oil-producing nation