The U.S. State Department has 15 days to reduce the staff of its embassy in Caracas dramatically from the more than 100 people currently employed there to 17. Venezuela’s government announced the deadline this week, adding to tensions that have already been ratcheting up between Caracas and Washington, D.C., in recent months.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez announced the 15-day window on Monday after meeting with Lee McClenny, the chargé d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in Venezuela. Rodríguez described the meeting as “cordial,” according to Venezuelan state-run newspaper Correo del Orinoco.
The announcement comes days after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro unveiled several measures aimed at restricting the U.S.’s presence in the country. Drawing down the size of the U.S. embassy staff to 17 would make it even with the size of the Venezuelan embassy staff in Washington, D.C., he said.
Maduro also issued travel bans for certain U.S. politicians he accused of being “terrorists,” including former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio told Fox News over the weekend that he considered the ban a “badge of honor.”
He also said that U.S. tourists traveling to Venezuela would soon be required to apply for a visa, but it’s not clear yet when that requirement will take effect. Rodríguez said that government officials would soon finalize those details, according to Correo del Orinoco.
U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been on a steady course of deterioration in recent weeks, particularly after Maduro accused the U.S. last month of being involved in a coup attempt against his government. The U.S. rejected the allegations.
“There has been a lot of anti-American rhetoric coming out of the Venezuelan government, with a lot of baseless allegations,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, according to the Associated Press.