Venezuela to demand mandatory visas for Americans

Venezuela to demand mandatory visas for Americans
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

CARACAS - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Saturday he was implementing a mandatory visa system for all American citizens visiting the country, as a way to "control" US interference.

The leftist president also ordered a review and reduction of US diplomatic staff in Caracas.

"In order to protect our country... I have decided to implement a system of compulsory visas for all Americans entering Venezuela," he told supporters.

In his fiery speech outside the Miraflores presidential palace, Maduro noted that the Americans have 100 diplomatic staff in Caracas, compared to 17 Venezuelan diplomats in Washington.

He cited the Vienna Convention's principle of the equality of states concerning the size of respective diplomatic missions.

Additionally, Maduro singled out several US political figures as being unable to come to Venezuela because his government considered them "terrorists." "A group of US political leaders who have violated human rights in bombing" countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan "will not be able to enter Venezuela because they are terrorists," Maduro said.

Maduro cited former president George W. Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney, as well as Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and his Republican colleague Marco Rubio.

Maduro said the visa decision was made after the capture of an American pilot of Latin American origin in the western state of Tachira suspected of carrying out "covert" espionage activities. He did not provide additional details.

Since Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, repeatedly criticising US "imperialist" policy, Washington and Caracas have been at diplomatic odds.

They withdrew their ambassadors from each other's country in 2010, and Venezuela has expelled several US diplomats under Maduro.

In December, the US imposed sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials accused of violating the rights of protesters during anti-government demonstrations at the start of 2014.

Maduro also warned that the US mission must alert and receive authorisation from the local government for any meeting held by US diplomats in Venezuela.

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