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Venezuelan opposition seizes diplomatic offices in U.S.; Maduro official warns of "reciprocal" action

Venezuelan opposition seizes 3 offices in U.S.

WashingtonRepresentatives of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized by the U.S. and more than four dozen countries as Venezuela's legitimate leader, said they took control of three diplomatic offices in Washington and New York that were formerly operated by the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Touring an abandoned diplomatic facility operated by Venezuela's military attaché, Carlos Vecchio, Guaidó's ambassador to the U.S, said the opposition had gained control of two defense ministry facilities in Washington and one consular building in New York with the backing of U.S. authorities. He added that he expects officials loyal to Guaidó to gain control of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood "in the days to come."

"They destroyed everything. That's what they have done here. They have destroyed this house. This is an asset that belonged to the Venezuelans," Vecchio told reporters Monday after replacing a portrait of Maduro on the building's wall with one of Guaidó. "If they do this in U.S., you can imagine what they are doing in Venezuela."

Vecchio was accompanied by Colonel José Luis Silva Silva, Venezuela's military attaché in Washington and one of the few high-ranking Venezuelan armed forces officials to defect and back the opposition.

The move by Guaidó's representatives will likely escalate tensions between Maduro's government and the Trump administration, which along with recognizing Guaidó, has imposed sweeping sanctions against the South American regime and pledged to spend millions in humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan people. With a collapsing economy, many Venezuelans are grappling with food and medicine shortages.

When President Trump announced his support for the opposition in January, Maduro severed ties with the U.S. and ordered all diplomatic staff in America to come back to Venezuela. After withdrawing non-essential staff in January, the U.S. ordered all remaining diplomatic personnel to leave the South American country last week.

Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela's foreign minister, denounced the "forceful and illegal seizure" by Guaidó's representatives, saying it was a violation of the guidelines established by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Arreaza urged the U.S. government to prevent the opposition from taking control of diplomatic facilities and in a thinly-veiled threat of a similar takeover of the U.S. embassy in Caracas, he said Maduro's government could take "reciprocal" actions in Venezuelan territory.

Through anti-government demonstrations, efforts to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela and the backing of the U.S. and other countries, Guaidó hopes to force Maduro to relinquish power. But for now, top military leaders in Venezuela have vowed to stand behind the socialist government — which still enjoys some support, particularly among working-class Venezuelans.