By Diego Ore
CARACAS, March 2 (Reuters) – Venezuela on Monday ordered the U.S. embassy in Caracas to reduce staff from 100 to 17 amid the worst diplomatic flare-up between the two ideological foes since socialist President Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013.
Maduro, who like his predecessor Hugo Chavez frequently locks horns with Washington, has stepped up accusations in recent weeks that the United States is seeking to topple him.
Although the United States did endorse a short-lived coup against Chavez in 2002, opposition leaders say the new accusations are a theatrical smokescreen designed to hide a recession, shortages of goods ranging from toilet paper to medicines, and the region’s steepest inflation.
Despite the fiery rhetoric, and Venezuela’s efforts to diversify to more ideologically aligned nations like China, there has been no talk by Caracas of halting its significant oil exports to the United States. (Additional reporting by Girish Gupta in Caracas and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Dan Grebler)