The State Department took custody of Venezuela’s embassy and official residences in Washington and New York after Juan Guaidó was voted out as interim president and the country was left without diplomats recognized by the U.S., people familiar with the matter said.
The U.S. assumed control of all of Venezuela’s diplomatic properties as of Feb. 6, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t yet public. A State Department spokesperson confirmed that the agency had taken stewardship of the property and will keep control of it until Venezuela has a new diplomatic mission.
Closing Venezuela’s diplomatic mission is the latest fallout from the opposition’s decision to oust Guaidó and close his so-called interim government, which was recognized by the U.S. and included foreign ambassadors. In December, opposition lawmakers voted him out. Guaidó’s ambassador to the U.S. left his post shortly thereafter.
Lawmakers have not chosen a new interim government, raising question about who will represent the opposition in foreign countries. For the past four years, Washington called Guaidó Venezuela’s rightful leader and gave diplomatic status to his envoy, Carlos Vecchio. Guaidó’s administration, which existed in parallel to President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas, was also given control of foreign assets, including management of U.S. oil refiner Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s parent company. The U.S. does not recognize Maduro’s government either.
After removing Guaidó, opposition lawmakers did appoint a representative to the U.S., Fernando Blasi, who had served as Vecchio’s commercial attaché. But Blasi wasn’t given diplomatic status by the U.S. because he was not appointed by a president, the people said.
Blasi and a group of at least a dozen people were still working out of the embassy and diplomatic residences this week. On Wednesday, they were denied entry to the buildings. In January, they were given 30 days to sort out their immigration status, the people said.
The representatives were told the U.S. would take custody of the embassy, a diplomatic residence and at least two other buildings in Washington as well as at least one building in New York, the people said.
Vecchio last week turned over the keys to the buildings to the opposition-led National Assembly’s assets council, of which Blasi is a member.
The Biden administration has said it will continue to recognize the National Assembly after Guaidó was removed and that it still considered Maduro “illegitimate.” The National Assembly, which first convened in 2015, is the last democratically elected institution in Venezuela, the U.S. has said.
(With assistance from Courtney McBride.)