CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Officials in Venezuela took the first step on Saturday toward expelling top diplomats from Brazil and Canada who have been accused of meddling in the country's politics.
National constituent assembly president Delcy Rodriguez declared both Brazil's ambassador and Canada's charge d'affaires as persona non grata, a move which does away with their diplomatic credentials.
Officials from both countries and the United States have been increasing critical of President Nicolas Maduro's government for consolidating power and isolating the country's opposition parties ahead of next year's presidential elections.
Brazil said in a tweet from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it intends to respond with equal force. The government had not yet received official notification from Venezuela.
"If confirmed, this decision demonstrates, once again, the authoritarian nature of the Nicolas Maduro administration and its lack of willingness to engage in any type of dialogue," Brazilian officials said.
Venezuela drew international condemnation on Wednesday when its pro-government constitutional assembly effectively stripped three of the country's most influential opposition parties of the right to participate in next year's presidential election.
It followed a threat by Maduro to punish the opposition groups for boycotting recent mayoral elections, protesting what they considered an unfair, rigged system run by a dictatorship.
The constituent assembly passed a decree requiring the parties to reapply for legal status. It comes ahead of presidential elections next year when Maduro is expected to seek a second term.
Rodriguez targeted Brazil's ambassador, Ruy Pereira, and Canada's charge d'affaires, Craig Kowalik. She accused Kowalik for a history of tweeting "rude and vulgar" comments about Venezuela.
Canadian officials said in a statement that they have met with the United Nation's Secretary General and the country's international partners to discuss a strategy for restoring order in Venezuela.
"Canadians will not stand by silently as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic and human rights, and denies them access to basic humanitarian needs," said Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Natasha Nystrom. "Our resolve remains unchanged."
The move to send home the two diplomats comes shortly after the government sparred with U.S. envoy Todd Robinson, who arrived days before Venezuela's measure blocking the opposition parties.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas strongly rebuked the assembly's latest decree.
"The Venezuelan government and its illegitimate National Constituent Assembly are inventing rules as they go," the embassy said in a tweet. "This is not democracy. Differing political views make strong democracies."