US Diplomats From Venezuela to Continue Mission in DC, Other Locations - Envoy

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NEW YORK (Sputnik) – US diplomatic staff have returned to Washington, DC, after leaving the US embassy in Caracas and will continue their work from the Department of State, US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliot Abrams told reporters on Friday.

“The diplomatic staff from the embassy in Caracas arrived at Dulles airport just after 11 o’clock last night, and they will be meeting the Secretary at 2:30 this afternoon”, Abrams said. “They will, in essence, continue their mission from other locations, from the State Department, for the most part, to try to support the Venezuelan people as they struggle to return Venezuela to democracy”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday that all US diplomatic staff had left Venezuela and would continue to carry out their mission from other locations, though he did not specify where the diplomats would be based.

READ MORE: Bolivian President Urges EU to Back Political Dialogue in Venezuela

Abrams said immigrant visas for Venezuelans would be processed in Bogota, Colombia, while applications for non-immigrant US visas could be submitted to any consular facility around the world.

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He conceded that the US government does not know how many American citizens might be in Venezuela at the moment, but said the number could exceed 40,000.

“We do not ever know exactly how many Americans are in any country because Americans are free to travel […] so we are guessing”, Abrams said. “And the guesses are in the range of 30,000; as we said, there are higher ranges, 35,000, 40,000, even higher than that, but we do not know the exact number, because we have no way of knowing”.

Earlier this week, Pompeo announced that the United States was withdrawing all of its remaining diplomatic staff from Venezuela due to security concerns. On 24 January, Washington recalled all “non-essential” diplomats and embassy personnel from Venezuela, citing security concerns.

READ MORE: State Department Encourages US Citizens to Leave Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela escalated in January when Juan Guaido was elected president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which all other government branches have been refusing to recognize since 2016. Guaido then declared himself the country's "interim president", gaining almost immediate support from the United States and its allies.

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President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in for his second presidential term on 10 January after winning the May election, has called Guaido's move an attempt to stage a coup orchestrated by Washington.

The United States has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Venezuela. The US Treasury Department recently blocked $7 billion in assets belonging to Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has denounced the sanctions as an illegal attempt to seize Venezuela’s sovereign assets.

Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey and several other countries continue to recognize constitutionally elected President Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

READ MORE: Venezuela to Kick Off Second Stage of Large-Scale Military Drills This Weekend

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