CARACAS - The United States has expelled Venezuela's charge d'affaires in Washington and two other diplomats in reprisal for the expulsion of three American diplomats from Caracas, both countries said late Tuesday.
The tit-for-tat move came a day after the expulsion of the Americans, accused of plotting acts of sabotage against the government, the foreign ministry in Caracas said.
It called the American move unjustified, saying the Venezuelan diplomats had not been meeting with people opposed to President Barack Obama.
Venezuela said the three diplomats it ejected, including charge d'affaires Kelly Keiderling, had met with the "Venezuelan far right" - the government's term for the opposition - to finance President Nicolas Maduro's opponents and "encourage actions to sabotage the power system and the economy.
The two countries - at each other's throats politically but eager supplier and buyer of Venezuelan oil - have not had ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2010.
Maduro is a firebrand anti-US populist in the mould of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, who died in March of cancer.
Some analysts in Venezuela said Maduro expelled the Americans to create a fracas and divert people's attention from his country's economic woes, with key municipal elections due in December.
"The United States is the big wild card for the revolutionary government. That is why the government does not want any stability in relations," said Felix Gerardo Arellano, a professor of political science at the Central University of Venezuela.