WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of State confirmed Tuesday it has declared three Venezuelan diplomats persona non grata, and given them 48 hours to depart the United States.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the diplomatic expulsion was "in response to the Venezuelan Government's decision to declare three Foreign Service officials person non grata" on February 17.
"... in accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the State Department has declared three officials from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC, persona non grata as well. They have been allowed 48 hours to leave the United States. As you know, the convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason."
The expelled Venezuelan diplomats are First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo.
In mid-February, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua explained the expulsion with accusations that the three U.S. consular officers were conspiring against the Venezuelan government by conducting a visa outreach program to private universities, where the diplomats were supposedly involved in "training, financing and creating youth organizations through which violence is promoted in Venezuela."
The State Department responded to the accusation and PNG notification on February 18, calling the Venezuelan government's allegations "baseless and false," and suggested that the government was blaming the U.S. for its internal crisis.