WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The United States has ordered three Venezuelan diplomats out of the country in reaction to similar action taken by Caracas, the State Department said Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington Venezuelan First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo were declared persona non gratae Monday night and given 48 hours to leave the United States.
The State Department's action was tit for tat following the Venezuelan government's decision to slap three U.S. diplomats with the same designation Feb. 17.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had accused the three U.S. consular officers of infiltrating Venezuelan universities to foment student protests that have turned violent. Psaki had called the accusations "baseless and false" at the time.
The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since late 2010. When told by a reporter that Maduro has indicated he intends to appoint a new ambassador to the United States, Psaki replied the Obama administration is ready "to develop a more constructive relationship with Venezuela" and has said "many months ago that could include an exchange of ambassadors."
"But Venezuela also needs to show seriousness for us to be able to move forward. And recent actions, including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult," she said.
Psaki added Washington has "serious concerns" about human rights and the state of democracy in Venezuela.