U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that all U.S. diplomats assigned to Venezuela have departed, in an exit the State Department calls "temporary."
Pompeo released a statement Thursday, soon after the last diplomats were reported to have left. The U.S. flag outside the embassy had been taken down.
"I know it is a difficult moment for them," he said, referencing the U.S. diplomats. "They are fully dedicated to our mission of supporting the Venezuelan people's aspirations to live in a democracy and build a better future for their families."
Pompeo said the diplomats assigned to Venezuela will continue their work "from other locations" where they will continue to work on getting humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people "and support the democratic actors bravely resisting tyranny."
Pompeo added that the United States government "remains firm in its resolve and support for the people of Venezuela and interim President Juan Guaido." He said staffers look forward to resuming their presence in Venezuela "once the transition to democracy begins."
Also Thursday, the State Department confirmed it has revoked 340 U.S. visas from Venezuelans, including more than 100 former diplomats and their families. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters that the U.S. has revoked more than 600 visas from Venezuelans since late last year. Palladino urged any U.S. citizens left in Venezuela to leave.
Palladino also warned followers of the embattled Nicolas Maduro not to harass U.S.-backed leader Juan Guaido.
The New York Times on Thursday quoted Palladino saying, "We hold former President Maduro and those surrounding him fully responsible for the safety and welfare of interim president Juan Guaido and his family. … It would be a terrible mistake for the illegitimate Maduro regime to arrest Juan Guaido."
The United States is one of about 50 countries that have thrown their support behind opposition leader Guaido, who has announced himself "interim president" after last year's disputed election. Maduro, the incumbent president who is hanging on to power despite shortages of food, water and electricity, says he is the victim of a coup plot by the United States.
Power was restored Thursday after a weeklong blackout that Maduro blamed on the United States. He has also promised an investigation into Guaido for "alleged involvement in the sabotage of the Venezuelan electricity system."
Guaido denied the allegations at an anti-Maduro protest Tuesday. "The whole world knows who the saboteur is," he said. "Maduro is responsible."
Maduro tried Tuesday to send a group of his relatives to Colombia, but Colombian authorities stopped them at the border, saying they do not recognize Maduro as president and will now allow his family to flee the discomfort suffered by other Venezuelans.