Loyalist threatens to cut power at the US Embassy as diplomatic moment of truth arrives for Venezuela

trump maduroJustin Sullivan/Getty Images; Reuters

  • A Venezuelan official has threatened to cut the power at the American embassy in Caracas as tensions between the two countries spike ahead of a looming January 26 showdown.
  • On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump expressed support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is being broadly recognized as Venezuela's interim leader in place of the increasingly isolated President Nicolás Maduro.
  • Trump's announcement angered Maduro, who quickly tried to sever diplomatic ties, giving US officials until January 26 to leave the country.
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that his diplomatic team is not going anywhere since the US doesn't recognize Maduro's authority.
  • Diosdado Cabello, a close Maduro ally, hit back by saying the electricity and gas will be cut off from the American embassy.
  • The State Department on Thursday ordered some US government workers to leave Venezuela and said U.S. citizens should consider leaving the country, Reuters reports.
  • "We are taking this action based on our current assessment of the security situation in Venezuela. We have no plans to close the embassy," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

A top Venezuelan official and close ally to Nicolás Maduro threatened to cut the electricity off the American embassy complex in Caracas as tensions between both countries escalate.

The threat is a direct response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision to keep US diplomats on the ground in the face of a Maduro's insistence that the US officials leave Venezuela within 72 hours. The order came after President Donald Trump expressed support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Guaidó, president of Venezuela's National Assembly, was named interim president of the country on Wednesday, following days of protests against Maduro, who promptly rejected the proclamation and condemned the US.

"They say they don't recognize Nicolas," said Diosado Cabello, the official who threatened to cut power off, according to Bloomberg. "OK. Maybe the electricity will go out in that neighborhood, or the gas won't arrive. If there are no diplomatic relations, no problems."

The US Embassy occupies a 27-acre mountainside site in the Colinas de Valle Arriba area, overlooking Las Mercedes. It is a five-story complex occupying 95,000 square-feet and, aside from occupying the high ground, the building's capacity to resist force is unclear.

Read more: Nicolás Maduro tells US diplomats to leave Venezuela within 72 hours after Trump recognizes opposition leader as interim president

It is also unclear what would happen if US staff have not evacuated by Maduro's deadline on January 26, but a test of wills is coming.

Any expulsion by force would likely trigger a reaction from the US and other nations which could range from tighter sanctions to, as Trump suggested on Wednesday, military options.

On Wednesday Pompeo raised the stakes, insisting his US staff wouldn't leave. Addressing the Venezuelan armed forces directly, Pompeo said the US expects the continued protection "welfare and well-being of all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and other foreign citizens in Venezuela."

"The United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel," he warned.

The State Department on Thursday ordered some US government workers to leave Venezuela and said US citizens should consider leaving the country, Reuters reported

"We are taking this action based on our current assessment of the security situation in Venezuela. We have no plans to close the embassy," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin - an ally and financial backer of Venezuela's government under Maduro - spoke to Maduro on Thursday and expressed his continued support. Russia's Prime Minister and former President Dmitry Medvedev also condemned the US for recognizing Guaidó.

"How would the American people respond, for example, to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives declaring herself the new president against the backdrop of the government shutdown? But when it happens somewhere else, this is viewed as common practice #Venezuela," Medvedev tweeted.

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