Fabiola Santiago

Despite U.S. label of ‘dictator,’ Nicolás Maduro digs in deeper in Venezuela

Cuban leader Raúl Castro speaks with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro during a memorial tribute for his brother Fidel Castro at the Antonio Maceo Revolution Square before the elder Castro’s burial in December.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro speaks with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro during a memorial tribute for his brother Fidel Castro at the Antonio Maceo Revolution Square before the elder Castro’s burial in December.

As if we ever had any doubts about where all this was heading, we can now, officially, call the Nicolás Maduro regime a dictatorship.

The Venezuelan strongman has run through nearly all the hoops of consolidating power by way of force and fraud, ignoring the international community’s warnings that his power grab will pave the way to more chaos and economic collapse.

And, unfortunately, the United States is a country weakened by it own political madness and won’t be able to stop him.

On Tuesday, a day after the Trump administration publicly labeled Maduro “a dictator” and slapped personal sanctions against him for proceeding with a vote fraught with deception and violence against the opposition, Maduro plucked from their homes two high-profile opposition leaders and threw them in prison.

Again.

Just like that, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma disappeared into dungeons, accused of making political statements and plotting to escape their house arrest.

The U.S. freezing of Maduro assets didn’t stop him. A pretty good speech by Miami’s Sen. Marco Rubio — televised in Venezuela — unveiling the riches that chavistas have amassed in Florida while Venezuelans starve didn’t stop him.

“There is no U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela. Yet the economy of a rich nation is in shambles, because the Maduro government has given away your oil and much of your sovereignty to Cuba,” Rubio said in Spanish. “For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you.”

But, in fact, Maduro’s goons stormed the opposition leaders’ homes just hours after Rubio’s taped words were broadcast by independent Globovisión.

And, in a telling move as all this was unfolding, Venezuelans in South Florida gathered signatures and petitioned the White House to grant them temporary protection status because they can’t envision returning to their country.

Hard not to see another Cuba playing out before our eyes — and an ineffective United States stumbling through the motions of opposing another dictatorship in Latin America.

The Obama economic sanctions didn’t dissuade Maduro from his course to follow the Cuban model, and neither is the Trump administration’s crackdown doing so now.

Maduro is clearly not concerned that he has been banned from the United States and that Americans are forbidden from doing any business with him. He’s clearly immune to the international community’s scorn for the jailing of opponents and for the killings of brave Venezuelan protesters who fought for their very lives on the streets.

For years, Maduro has been copying the Castro brothers’ sovereign-rights rhetoric. And his Cuban masters were chock-full of praise for the scheme executed Sunday to usurp absolute power by taking it away from democratically elected lawmakers and installing a new legislative body to redraft the constitution to fit his ambitions.

“The people demonstrated to the world that they are in full possession of their sovereign rights, and are firmly on the side of peace, in defense of citizen security, of independence and self-determination in their homeland,” Granma, the official voice of the Cuban government, posted on its website.

As the Maduro regime cemented its hold on Venezuela, Cuba also took a major backward step of its own, meeting Trump’s tightening of travel rules to prohibit Americans from spending money in establishments owned by the military with harsh measures of its own against the budding and promising class of Cuban entrepreneurs.

Coincidence? Not at all.

It’s hard not to see the connection between the extraordinary developments in Venezuela the past few days with Cuba’s renewed despotism, particularly after the celebrated opening to the United States went cold with Trump. Leaders in both countries are blatantly bucking any hint at modernity and democracy and shackling the desires of their people.

And there’s not a single American administration that hasn’t fumbled in its mediocre efforts to stop it from happening.

Diplomacy has never been more necessary, but don’t expect it from this administration. It will be a long four-year drought for the people of Cuba and Venezuela, with no way out.

Neither Nicolás Maduro nor Raúl Castro is yielding their authoritarian course to U.S. sanctions. On the contrary, they’re digging in their despots’ boots deeper.

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