As more than a month of opposition protests have left at least 25 dead, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused South Florida Republicans of pushing Washington off a cliff of extremism.
During a press conference Friday, Maduro said Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were trying to influence President Barack Obama, the Associated Press reported.
“Obama can’t let himself be taken by the Miami lobby,” Maduro said. “I call on the United States to take it easy. They’re taking President Obama to an abyss and he’s going to crash against Venezuela and be isolated from all of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The Maduro administration often blames outside actors for crises, and over the past few weeks he has accused forces in Colombia, Panama and the United States of using the protests as cover to try to topple his socialist administration. South Florida — home to much of Venezuela’s exiled opposition — is also a favorite government target.
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“It’s not surprising that Maduro targets Florida lawmakers in a sorry attempt to distract from the real domestic problems facing the people of Venezuela due to his misguided policies,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “It’s truly a badge of honor to be maligned for being on the right side of history and promoting democratic principles for people who are being oppressed by rogue regimes.”
Rubio said it was Maduro who was leading his nation “into the abyss.”
“Instead of listening to the legitimate concerns of Venezuelans, he is taking orders from Havana,” Rubio said in a statement. “I will continue to urge President Obama to line up firmly on the side of the Venezuelan people and against the brutality of the Maduro government.”
But Maduro didn’t stop at the U.S. Congress. During the nationally televised conference, he also accused Vice President Joe Biden of trying to sway Latin American leaders during the inauguration of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet earlier this week. Maduro said Biden’s efforts to build an anti-Venezuela coalition failed.
He also said the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency were plotting against him.
“I don’t know if President Obama is aware of all the actions by the State Department, the NSA and the CIA against Venezuela,” Maduro said.
The United States and Venezuela have been at odds for years and the two nations haven’t had ambassadors since 2010. Last month, Venezuela ejected three U.S. consular officers on “conspiracy” allegations.
The national protests, largely led by students, began in early February amid growing alarm about Venezuela’s record-levels of violence and soaring inflation. As the protests have dragged on, they’ve also become more deadly. On Wednesday, three people died, including a National Guard member, as marchers marked one month since the protests spread to the capital.
Foreign Minister Elías Jaua blamed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for inciting the violence.
“We denounce you as an assassin of the people of Venezuela,” Jaua said Friday. “We will not be quiet before any empire until you order your lackeys in Venezuela to cease the violence against the people.”
Those comments came after Kerry told a congressional committee Thursday that the U.S. was looking for a way to get Maduro to engage in dialogue with his own people and respect human rights.
“Venezuela’s government needs to focus on solving its growing economic and social problems, not on making absurd allegations against the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “The Venezuelan government should stop the violence against its citizens who are exercising their freedom of speech, release those it has unjustly jailed such as [opposition leader] Leopoldo Lopez, lift restrictions on freedom of the press, and engage in an authentically inclusive dialogue with Venezuelans across the political spectrum.”
The government has been holding an ongoing “peace conference” but the coalition of opposition parties known as the MUD is asking for concessions and a clear agenda before joining. Among its demands is that the government release political prisoners and those detained during protests, and thoroughly investigate the more than two dozen deaths that the protests have produced. While many of the dead have been opposition protesters, security forces and government sympathizers have also died in the clashes.
But aside from holding peace talks, the government has responded by fighting back on the street. Earlier this week, Maduro said he would give his armed forces more leeway in unblocking roads and searching homes and businesses for violent protesters.
On Friday, Maduro warned of the dire consequences if the 15-year-old “socialist revolution” that he inherited from the late President Hugo Chávez were cut short .
“If they succeed in overthrowing us … it would produce the worst social, economic and political instability that Latin America and the Caribbean have seen in two centuries,” Maduro said.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Jacqueline Charles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.