U.S. diplomats in Venezuela are caught in the midst of an ongoing power struggle, and with the Trump administration siding with the opposition, their security remains uncertain.
“The people in the embassy in Caracas are in a very vulnerable situation,” a former Trump Administration official told NBC News. “Diplomats depend on host governments for their safety. Now they’re no longer safe on the streets or in their homes.”
Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets earlier this week to force President Nicolás Maduro—who much of the international community believes to have rigged the most recent election—out of office. Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, led the marches and claimed himself an interim president until free elections could be held.
President Donald Trump officially recognized Guaidó as the nation’s leader on Wednesday, further intensifying relations with Maduro.
Later that day, Maduro said Venezuela was breaking relations with the U.S. and gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. Since the U.S. no longer recognizes Maduro’s authority, however, the U.S. diplomats remain in Caracas.
“The United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata,” said the U.S. State Department in a statement, CNBC reports.
Nonessential staff was ordered to leave the country for security reasons, according to the Los Angeles Times, with many taking their families to the airport to depart Friday.
The Venezuelan military continues to side with Maduro, threatening the success of the opposition’s attempted coup. If Maduro remains in power, the security of the remaining U.S. diplomats is uncertain.
A senior official told NBC News that embassy security has been increased and the U.S. military could stage an operation out of neighboring Colombia if necessary to remove any diplomats in harm’s way.