The political situation in Venezuela has destabilized significantly as the socialist dictatorship has attempted to nullify the opposition-held legislature and banned a presidential contender from public office for fifteen years. It is a bizarre time for dictator Nicolás Maduro to leave the country, yet he has done so, attending a leftist summit in Havana.
Maduro delivered a speech in Havana Tuesday at the summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a joint Cuban-Venezuelan effort to unite leftist leaders in Latin America. Maduro spoke for over an hour, attacking Washington and accusing the administration of President Donald Trump of conspiring to force a “coup” against him.
“The true truth is that there has been an order from Washington of zero dialogue in Venezuela to make our country explode and allow a foreign invasion,” Maduro told the Cuban audience, claiming Trump is seeking a “coup d’etat” in Venezuela.
Of Trump personally, Maduro said that his administration was “very dangerous, very threatening,” which represented a more respectful approach than his description of Organization of American States (OAS) head Luis Almagro as “garbage of garbage,” “filth,” and “traitor of traitors.”
Despite this, Maduro’s attack on Trump was a change in attitude from Maduro’s previous, inscrutable message to Trump, which appeared to be an attempt to warn the bilateral relationship.
Maduro, a longtime ally of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, may have chosen to go on the offensive against Trump following the White House’s announcement that the president had ordered airstrikes against the Syrian regime as punishment for the use of chemical weapons.
Maduro also took to the time to accuse Europe of spreading slavery worldwide: “Over 50 million men and women were abducted from Africa and brought here, worse than animals, tied up, turned into slaves throughout this continent, as we say, by the cultured Europe; it was the cultured Europe who imposed slavery, racism, exclusion, and plunder of entire continents.”
The ALBA, run by Cuba and Venezuela, issued a statement condemning human rights advocates and international institutions like the OAS for calling for an end to violence and political repression in Venezuela. “We reject the aggressions and concerted manipulations against our ally,” the group said in a statement. “We condemn the interventionist, illegal and pro-imperialist behavior of the OAS secretary general.”
Tensions have escalated in the South American nation following an attempt by the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court to invalidate the legislature and install itself as the federal lawmaking body two weeks ago.
Last week, the socialist government banned Henrique Capriles Radonski, a former opposition presidential candidate and governor of Miranda state, from holding public office for fifteen years, with little explanation. Capriles condemned the decision, arguing, “the first option to be president of Venezuela is Leopoldo [López] who is in prison, and me, now banned from running for office.” Opposition leader López is serving a fourteen-year prison sentence for organizing a peaceful protest.
The protests in response to these moves have become violent, with two young student protesters – 21-year-old Daniel Queliz and 19-year-old Jairo Ortiz – killed in the past week and an 87-year-old woman dying after her home was filled with tear gas, used against protesters. Police used helicopters and officers stationed on rooftops to shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protesters in Caracas, injuring an estimated 200, according to opposition legislators.
The Venezuelan government has called upon the international community to condemn the protesters.