The U.S. has expelled three Venezuelan diplomats after Caracas expelled three U.S. ones. Above, women attend a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Feb. 23, 2014.
The State Department said Tuesday it has expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to last week's expulsion of three U.S. consular officials from Caracas.
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Venezuelan envoys First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo, have 48 hours to leave the U.S.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats from Caracas on Feb. 17, saying they were supporting opposition plots to overthrow him.
Psaki cited U.S. concerns about Venezuela's record of human rights and support for democracy, but said Washington remains open to a diplomatic relationship with Maduro.
Still, "Venezuela also needs to show seriousness for us to be able to move forward," Psaki said. "And recent actions, including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult."
The two countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, though they have maintained embassies.
Since Feb. 12, Venezuelan opponents of Maduro have been staging countrywide protests that the government says have left at least 15 people dead and wounded about 150. Authorities have detained 579 people, of whom 45, including nine police officers and members of the National Guard, remain in custody.
Though violent protests have died down, Venezuela remains tense. Opposition protesters erected barricades to block traffic on major streets in Caracas and elsewhere Monday but there were no major clashes.