Venezuela Boots US Officials It Spied on for Months
Maduro claims they were conspiring with opposition
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2014 7:49 AM CST
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shouts after pitching the ball at the opening ceremony of Caribbean Series baseball tournament in Porlamar, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014.   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

(Newser) – As violent protests rocked Venezuela for a fifth straight night yesterday, President Nicolás Maduro ordered the expulsion of three US officials who, he said, were conspiring with the opposition. Maduro's announcement came after the Obama administration publicly sided with opposition leader Leopoldo López, the AP reports. Maduro says López is aiming to overthrow the government and police are searching for him; a State Department official recently warned Venezuela that if the former mayor is arrested, there will be international consequences. "These are unacceptable, insolent demands," Maduro said on TV last night. "I don't take orders from anyone in the world."

Maduro said the consular officials he is expelling—who were not named—were pretending to do visa outreach at Venezuelan universities while actually trying to instigate further unrest at the schools—a conclusion that was arrived at after intelligence officials tailed them for two months. Protests, which have been going on intermittently for two weeks, were spurred by students and other opposition supporters unhappy with crime levels and a struggling economy. John Kerry addressed the situation Saturday, saying that the US government is "alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo López." USA Today notes that expelling US diplomats is "a common political maneuver" for Venezuela, one that has happened two other times recently.