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U.S. expels 2 Venezuelan diplomats

From Juan Carlos Lopez and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
March 11, 2013 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
 Two Venezuelan diplomats were expelled from the United States, a U.S. official said Monday.
Two Venezuelan diplomats were expelled from the United States, a U.S. official said Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: US. official: "Our people are thrown out unjustly, we're going to take reciprocal action"
  • NEW: Working together is "going to take a change of tone from Caracas," she says
  • Two Venezuelan diplomats are expelled from the United States
  • The move comes after two U.S. officials were expelled from Venezuela

Washington (CNN) -- Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Venezuela showed no signs of slowing Monday as the State Department announced that two Venezuelan diplomats had been expelled.

Orlando Jose Montanez Olivares and Victor Camacaro Mata were declared personae non gratae and ordered to leave the country in response to the South American nation's decision to kick out two U.S. officials last week, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

"Around the world, when our people are thrown out unjustly, we're going to take reciprocal action," she said. "We need to do that to protect our own people."

The expulsion of the Venezuelan diplomats comes after Venezuelan officials -- just hours before announcing President Hugo Chavez's death last week -- said they were expelling two U.S. Embassy officials and accused them of plotting to destabilize the country.

"In the day or days that followed there was some pretty heated rhetoric coming in our direction," Nuland said Monday. "I think I called it at one point a page from the old 'Chavista' playbook that we were hoping was going to change. ... There is work that we would like to do together, particularly in the areas of counter-terrorism, counternarcotics, economics and energy relations, but it's going to take a change of tone from Caracas."

The expelled Venezuelan diplomats have left the United States, Nuland said. Camacaro worked in the Venezuelan Consulate in New York, and Montanez worked at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, she said.

The expelled U.S. officials, both air attaches at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, were accused of having meetings with members of the Venezuelan military and encouraging them to pursue "destabilizing projects," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said.

"We will not allow any foreign interference in our country," Jaua said last week.

Nicolas Maduro, then vice president and now Venezuela's interim leader, also suggested as he criticized the U.S. Embassy officials last week that someone had deliberately infected Chavez with cancer.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied the accusations.

"This fallacious assertion of inappropriate U.S. action leads us to conclude that, unfortunately, the current Venezuelan government is not interested an improved relationship," he said.

It isn't the first time that diplomatic tensions have surged between the two countries.

Last year the State Department declared Venezuela's consul general in Miami persona non grata -- Latin for unwelcome or unacceptable person -- and expelled her from the United States. In 2008, Venezuela expelled the U.S. ambassador to the South American country. A day later, the United States said it was expelling the Venezuelan ambassador.

Maduro enters Venezuelan presidency race

CNN en Español's Juan Carlos Lopez reported from Washington CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta. CNN's Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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