Venezuela

Venezuela’s UN cancellation shines light on Maduro’s boogeymen

 
 
Maduro
Maduro
JODY AMIET / AFP/Getty Images

jwyss@miamiherald.com

As Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tells it, he lives in a very dangerous world. Since winning a narrow and contested election in April, his administration has unveiled almost a dozen plans to murder him.

The latest accusation came Wednesday after Maduro canceled his visit to the United Nations General Assembly and a speech in the Bronx at the last minute. He then accused Roger Noriega, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and beltway insider, and fellow ex-diplomat Otto Reich of a “crazy plan” to incite violence in Manhattan or, perhaps, even kill him.

Speaking from Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Noriega says he’s lost track of how many times Maduro has falsely accused him of plotting his demise.

“It’s not stressful,” he said of the recurring allegations. “I think Maduro is under more pressure than I am, and his comments reflect that...He needs a boogeyman.”

Some plots are modest, such as the assassins Maduro said crossed the Colombian border at the behest of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Others seem straight out of Hollywood — former Vice President José Vicente Rangel once said the opposition had purchased 18 jet-fighters that were going to operate from a U.S. military base in Colombia. The plots are such a hot topic in Venezuela that Ultimas Noticias newspaper has put out an interactive graphic to track them.

Even more prevalent than assassination plans are acts of economic “sabotage” that have been blamed for everything from blackouts to chronic shortages of chicken to toilet paper. Since mid-April, Maduro’s press office has sent out at least 144 communiqués that mention “sabotage.” When the government activated the sabotage hotline, 0800-SABOTAJE, earlier this month it said it got more than 1,000 calls in the first week.

After Wednesday’s aborted U.N. trip, Maduro unveiled a fresh case of potential wrongdoing. His presidential aircraft, which he said had recently undergone a five-month overhaul in France by its manufacturer Airbus, had “inexplicable” and “serious” damage to one wing. Maduro said he was assembling a legal team to press the case.

Airbus did not respond to a request for information, but told the Spanish news agency EFE that it did not perform the overhaul — that work is subcontracted out — but it would help Venezuela investigate.

Maduro seized on the Airbus comments as legitimizing his claim.

“The crazy right-wing has a strange and suspicious attitude,” he wrote Thursday on Twitter, referring to the airplane malfunction. “I think another one of their macabre plans fell through..”

The plane troubles were the reason he travelled to China last week on a Cubana de Aviación airliner that was also slated to take him to the United Nations General Assembly, he said.

That switch might have been at the heart of some of his recent travel woes. When Maduro was initially denied the right to travel through U.S. airspace over Puerto Rico last week on his way to China, the U.S. State Department said the delay was due in part because “the plane in question was not a state aircraft, which is required for diplomatic clearance.”

Maduro said he was on a layover in Canada when he received news of the threats and aborted the U.N. trip. But there was also speculation that if the plane had made it to New York it might have been seized by U.S. courts that have won rulings against the Cuban government.

Miranda State Gov. Henrique Capriles, the opposition standard-bearer, has been questioning Maduro’s story.

“Maduro said he didn’t go to the U.N. to protect his life,” he tweeted Thursday. “Does anyone believe that ridiculousness? Why won’t he tell us what happened in Canada?”

Venezuela has serious problems. Inflation is running 45 percent a year and shortages of basic items are chronic. Economists say the problem is the country’s strict currency and price controls that keep companies from freely importing goods and generate speculation.

The government has its own explanation: “economic warfare.”

When an electricity blackout earlier this month plunged almost half the country into darkness, Maduro said it was an opposition “test run” for a coup.

“Caramba!” wrote columnist Mario Villegas, the brother of Maduro’s former communications czar. “If you didn’t understand Venezuelan reality you would think that [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad and [Colombian President] Juan Manuel Santos, who are both facing armed rebels, are lucky not to have an opposition that’s so powerful and endowed politically, economically, socially, technically and militarily as Venezuela’s.”

A few weeks ago, Maduro talked about a White House plan called “Total Collapse” that he said is designed to bring down the entire Venezuelan economy.

The fact that Maduro is even conjuring up the scenario is telling, Noriega said.

“Here’s a guy who sees what the rest of us see — the total collapse of the economy — and he sees the political peril,” Noriega said. “But he thinks that if he can pin it all on Obama he might be able to hold onto power once the economy collapses.”

If the U.N. mayhem and murder plot is like those of weeks and months past, tangible proof will not be forthcoming. The government has accused the opposition of being ghoulish in its demand for proof.

After revealing an assassination plot against Maduro in August, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said his political foes had all the evidence they needed.

“We’re not going to give the right-wing Nicolás Maduro’s body as proof,” he said.

Read more Venezuela stories from the Miami Herald

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FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2014, file photo, a man walks in front of a mural with painted images of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, independence hero Simon Bolivar and late President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas, Venezuela. Announcements of foiled coups and plots against the government have long been a part of the Chavista discourse. A study by the Caracas-based newspaper Ultimas Noticias counted 63 alleged assassination plots between when Chavez took office in 1999 and his death in 2013. Since then, such claims have come even more frequently. President Nicolas Maduro’s government has denounced more than a dozen purported plots since coming to power 15 months ago.

    Venezuelan conspiracy theories a threat to critics

    Roderick Navarro was in class when he got the news that a high-ranking minister had accused him of plotting to assassinate Venezuela's president.

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A resident waits for transportation to a new home after being evicted from the world’s tallest slum, the Tower of David, a half-built skyscraper that was abandoned in the 1990s and was transformed by squatters into a vertical ghetto, in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Officials and armed soldiers began moving out the first of thousands of squatters who have lived for nearly a decade in a soaring, half-built skyscraper in the heart of Caracas.

    End comes for notorious Venezuelan vertical slum

    The beginning of the end came for the world's tallest slum Tuesday as officials began evicting thousands of squatters from a haphazard community inside the half-built Caracas skyscraper known as the Tower of David.

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A mural of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez covers a street wall in the 23 de Enero neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, July 17, 2014. In 2010, Chavez pushed Venezuela’s Congress to ban U.S. funding in the name of protecting the country’s sovereignty. The  ban subjects violators to fines of as much as twice all foreign money received, and bars them from running for public office. Foreigners in Venezuela who provide such aid can be deported.

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    Almost four years after Venezuela enacted a law to bar the U.S. from funding groups frequently critical of the socialist government, millions of the American dollars the administration tried to ban still flow to these organizations, an analysis by The Associated Press shows. Much more U.S. support is under consideration.  

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