Bloomberg — The US took custody of Venezuela’s embassy and official residences in Washington and New York after the opposition’s diplomatic mission was closed following the removal of Juan Guaidó as interim president, according to people familiar with the matter.
The State Department took over the buildings as of Feb. 6. The mission was closed because the opposition was left without an executive branch after Guaidó was ousted and his interim government was ended in a December vote, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is sensitive.
Representatives for the State Department and Venezuelan opposition didn’t immediately respond to questions seeking comment.
The incident adds to the confusion over who will represent the opposition in foreign countries. For the past four years, Washington called Guaidó Venezuela’s rightful leader and gave full diplomatic recognition to the interim government he led. The administration, which existed in parallel to President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas, was also given control of foreign assets, including management of US oil refiner Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s parent company.
But in December opposition lawmakers voted to end the interim government, effectively removing Guaidó. His ambassador to the US, Carlos Vecchio, promptly left his post after the vote. In his place, opposition lawmakers appointed a representative, Fernando Blasi, who had served as Vecchio’s commercial attaché.
The envoy, however, was not appointed by an executive branch and therefore was denied an extension on his diplomatic status by the US. A group of at least a dozen people was 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 migratory status, the people said.
The representatives were told the US 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 US has said.
--With assistance from Courtney McBride.
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