In rare move, Rubio delivers speech on independent Venezuelan TV

In an unusual move by a U.S. senator, Florida Republican Marco Rubio got to make a speech late Monday night on an independent Venezuelan TV news channel to express solidarity with opponents of President Nicolás Maduro, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration as a “dictator.”

“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,” said Rubio, who is fluent in Spanish. “For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you.”

The 10-minute address, taped in Washington, aired on Globovisión, which was expected to continue playing the speech Tuesday, according to Rubio’s office.

Recalling his Cuban background and Miami’s robust Venezuelan community, Rubio blamed Maduro for the turmoil that has left about 120 Venezuelans dead since street protests began about four months ago. He urged free and fair elections and the release of political prisoners.

Hours after the speech’s initial airing, Venezuelan state security agents took into custody two opposition leaders who had been under house arrest, a move Rubio said in a statement was a “direct challenge” to President Donald Trump.

In the televised speech, Rubio acknowledged that the U.S. “has its own challenges” and said the U.S. has no plans to intervene in Venezuela. But he decried the South American country’s leaders, calling them corrupt. “They own “ranches in Wellington, mansions in Gables Estates” and spend freely at the Shops of Merrick Park, he said.

“They possess immeasurable riches, they’ve stolen in power while people fight to feed their families,” Rubio added. “While the people of Venezuela struggle each day to feed their families, have you noticed how many of your leaders have gained weight?”

On Monday, the U.S. froze Maduro’s assets, banned him from U.S. travel and prohibited Americans from doing business with him after his government carried out a violence-marred election Sunday widely seen as fraudulent for a new all-powerful constituent assembly.

“Impose all the sanctions you want,” Maduro said in a defiant speech Monday evening in which he referred to “Emperor Donald Trump.” “I don’t obey imperial orders. ... I’m against the Ku Klux Klan that governs the White House, and I’m proud to feel that way.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders expressed outrage Tuesday over the detention of Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. Rubio brought Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the Oval Office to meet Trump in February

Like Rubio, Sanders noted that Vice President Mike Pence had spoken to López just last week.

“The United States condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship and holds Maduro personally responsible for the health and safety of both men and any other seized by his dictatorship,” she said.

McClatchy White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez contributed from Washington.