LIMA/CARACAS: Peru expelled Venezuela’s ambassador on Friday as regional pressure built on President Nicolas Maduro’s government for allegedly trampling his country’s constitutional order.
The Venezuelan government retaliated by ordering the head of Peru’s embassy in Caracas to leave and called Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski an “enemy” of Venezuela and of Latin American unity.
Peru gave Ambassador Diego Molero, a former Venezuelan defence minister, five days to leave the country. As part of what it said was a firm commitment “to help restore Venezuela’s democracy,” Peru’s administration also refused to accept a diplomatic protest made by Maduro over Peru’s hosting this week of foreign ministers from 17 regional nations who refused to recognise the new, loyalist-packed special assembly that is to rewrite the constitution.
The action by Peru, which was the strongest yet from a Latin American government, came as the Trump administration weighed putting economic sanctions on Venezuela to punish Maduro for what Washington calls an illegitimate power grab.
A few hours later, Venezuela’s foreign ministry announced that it was giving Peru’s top envoy in Caracas, Carlos Rossi, five days to leave the country. The statement also said Venezuela’s ambassador in Lima had already returned to Caracas.
Peru’s president has until recently been a lonely exception among Latin American leaders in openly condemning Maduro. Kuczynski, a former Wall Street investment banker who spent decades living in the US, is frequently mocked on Venezuelan state TV and was once referred to as the “empire’s lapdog” by an official.
Reaction in Latin America has been far more subdued, reflecting long-held reluctance by much of the region to encroach on a neighbour’s sovereignty and some lingering ideological affinity for the anti-imperialist revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez. Several attempts to punish Venezuela at the Organisation of American States have failed due to a lack of consensus.
Maduro’s government has sent mixed signals about how much more confrontation it is willing to accept.
This week, the government-packed Supreme Court ordered the arrest of two Caracas-area mayors for protecting protesters in their districts. And on Friday, Tarek William Saab, installed as chief prosecutor after the constitutional assembly ousted his outspoken predecessor, warned that he would reopen investigations against protesters for the use of violence and even destruction of trees used to build barricades at demonstrations.
At the same time, the constitutional assembly on Friday said it would debate a proposal to push up to October elections for governors in all of Venezuela’s states. It’s a possible sign that the government is looking to negotiate a deal with the opposition, although many question if the constitutional assembly, which has a free hand to upend institutions, will even allow elections that were originally slated to take place last year will be allowed to go forward.
Also on Friday, Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino said security forces have captured the mastermind of a failed assault on a military base a week ago.
Former national guard Captain Juan Caguaripano was captured in Caracas along with an active-duty soldier who allegedly collaborated with a small group of civilians and former officers that last Saturday raided a major military base in Valencia and walked off with a cache of weapons.
Padrino called the arrests a “major blow to the fascist terrorism put in place by the Venezuelan right-wing in the past few months” of antigovernment protests.
Last Saturday’s attack left two people dead and came after Caguaripano, who went into exile after denouncing Maduro in 2014, released in a video in which he stood before a group of heavily-armed men in fatigues and called on the armed forces to rebel.