Top US diplomat in Venezuela under fire for tough comments

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The head of Venezuela’s government-controlled assembly on Thursday accused the top U.S. diplomat in Caracas of promoting a coup and threatened to take “corresponding diplomatic measures” against him but stopped short of saying he would be expelled.

National Constituent Assembly president Delcy Rodriguez issued a series of tweets targeting U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson. They follow the release of an interview he gave a local online publication critical of the Venezuelan government.

Relations have long been tense between the United States and Venezuela, an oil-rich country in a deepening political and economic crisis.

Robinson told the publication RunRunes that it is possible Washington could ratchet up sanctions against Venezuela’s critical oil sector, on top of sanctioning dozens of key government officials, such as President Nicolas Maduro.

“Everything is on the table,” Robinson said. “Undoubtedly, the sanctions have been effective so far at identifying members of the regime who are corrupt or those who have played a role against Venezuela’s institutions and Constitution.”

Robinson criticized the electoral process ahead of presidential elections on April 22, when Maduro will seek a second term. He said Venezuela’s military has a large influence on the country’s future, but he walked a fine line adding that as a diplomat he will “never support a coup.”

Pushing back, Rodriguez said the National Constituent Assembly will evaluate Robinson’s comments before adopting “corresponding diplomatic measures in defense of the sovereignty and dignity of Venezuelan’s people.”

She accused Robinson of violating international law and said he’s guilty of being ignorant of Venezuela. She stopped short of stripping Robinson’s diplomatic credentials — action taken in recent dust-ups with key diplomats from Canada, Brazil and Spain.

The U.S. State Department declined a request by The Associated Press for comment Thursday.

In his long diplomatic career Robinson has worked in Colombia, Bolivia, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. He earned a reputation for speaking out as ambassador to Guatemala and several times faced calls for his expulsion.

Days after landing in Caracas less than three months ago, the U.S. Embassy posted a comment on Twitter calling the new National Constituent Assembly “illegitimate,” saying it engages in undemocratic practices and is “inventing rules” as it goes.

Rodriguez retorted that Robinson began his new diplomatic assignment on “the wrong foot.”

More recently, Robinson accused Venezuelan authorities of unjustly holding Joshua Holt, a Utah man jailed on weapons charges. Robinson said Holt’s case is the main obstacle to improving strained relations between the two countries.

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