President Nicolas Maduro said his government had captured American citizens involved in espionage activities, and said US citizens in the future will have to seek visas to come to Venezuela. Speaking during a rally, he said his government will prohibit some US officials from entering Venezuela in retaliation for a similar measure by the government of President Barack Obama against a group of Venezuelan public officials.
We have captured some US citizens in undercover activities, espionage, trying to win over people in towns along the Venezuelan coast, he said, adding a US citizen of Latin descent was captured in the convulsed border city of Tachira.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Caracas said he was unable to comment, citing a lack of any official diplomatic communication with the Venezuelan government.
The head of a Venezuelan evangelical organization on Friday said a group of four missionaries had been called in for questioning after participating in a medical assistance campaign in the coastal town of Ocumare de la Costa.
That pastor, Abdy Pereira, on Saturday said in a telephone interview that the four had left the country for Aruba after having been questioned for several days about alleged involvement in espionage. Pereira said the group had been coming to Venezuela 14 years and denied they were involved in espionage.
The United States and Venezuela have had tense diplomatic relations for more than a decade. Maduro recently accused Washington of helping stage a coup, a charge dismissed by the White House as ludicrous.
The delicate political situation in Venezuela impeded Maduro from flying to Uruguay for the Sunday taking office ceremony of elected president Tabare Vazquez. Maduro was particularly interested in congratulating outgoing president Jose Mujica who stepped down after five years.
Meanwhile in the Vatican Pope Francis called on Sunday for an end to political violence in Venezuela and said he would pray for a teenager killed during an anti-government demonstration last week.
Protests against the government of President Maduro turned violent in the city of San Cristobal where 14-year-old Kluibert Roa was shot dead. A 23-year-old policeman has been detained and charged over the killing.
In his weekly Angelus address in Saint Peter's Square, Francis, the first Latin American pope called on all sides to renounce violence and to begin talking.
I would like to recall Venezuelans, which is once again experiencing new moments of acute tension ... I pray for the victims and in particular for the boy killed a few days ago in San Cristobal, said Francis.
I call on everyone to reject violence and urge respect for the dignity of all persons and for the sacredness of human life and I encourage a return to a common movement for the good of the country with the opening up of areas for sincere and constructive meeting and dialogue, he added.