The White House said Tuesday it had declared three Venezuelan diplomats persona non grata in retaliation for the expulsion of three American consular officials accused of aiding violent protests in Caracas, Venezuela.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called it a "reciprocal move" after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the American workers out of the country.
The demonstrations in Venezuela's capital city have left more than a dozen dead and led to questions about the authority of Maduro, who took office less than a year ago. The Venezuelan president has billed himself as the successor to longtime leader Hugo Chavez.
Earlier Tuesday, Maduro proposed Maximilien Sanchez, a former envoy to Brazil, as his country's new ambassador to the United States. The nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2008, but Maduro billed the move as an attempt to combat American-sewn insurrection.
"U.S. society needs to know the truth about Venezuela," Maduro said in a daily speech, according to Reuters. "They [Americans] think we're killing each other. They think we can't go out to the corner. They're asking for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. What madness! Should that happen, you and I will be out with a gun defending our territory."
Carney said that "despite what the Venezuelan government would like to lead people to believe," the opposition protests in Caracas are "an issue between Venezuela and its people."
"We've been clear all along that the future of Venezuela is for the Venezuelan people to decide," he said.
But Carney hinted the U.S. might be willing to exchange ambassadors, provided that Venezuelans could demonstrate "seriousness."
"Recent actions, including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult," he said.