In a speech on Thursday, Venezuelan head of state Nicolás Maduro claimed the assassination of an opposition legislation candidate Wednesday night was the product of rival gangs “settling scores,” claiming the American government is offering thousands of dollars to “armed men” to “attack the opposition and later show them off around the world.”
Luis Manuel Díaz, a regional opposition leader, was shot dead on Wednesday night at an event in Guárico state, where he shared the stage with a number of prominent opposition leaders, including Lilian Tintori, wife of political prisoner Leopoldo López. Díaz was shot by a gunman from a car driving by, a man believed to be a member of a Chavista, pro-government gang.
On Thursday, Maduro spoke at a public event in which he derided the “garbage” head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, for condemning the murder, and claimed that American officials had put the lives of opposition leaders on sale.
“There haven’t been 12 hours of investigation yet and there goes that garbage, Luis Almagro of the OAS, declaring against Venezuela, against the people and the Bolivarian revolution,” Maduro told the crowd. “This is all a manipulation, a lie, and that garbage Luis Almagro remains silent.”
Regarding Díaz’s assassination, Maduro called it a case of “settling scores between rival gangs” in the region. Yet he went on to claim the United States pays gang members between $30,000 and $50,000 to “attack the opposition and then show them off around the world.” “They are moving a lot of money to see if they can buy a place in the conscience of our armed forces.”
Maduro then blamed President George W. Bush for allegedly attempting to assassinate late dictator Hugo Chávez in 2012.
Maduro has previously accused Vice President Joe Biden of conspiring to assassinate him, as well.
Pro-government outlets are beginning to push the conspiracy theory that Díaz was a gang member despite his prominence as a regional political leader and thus the author of his own demise. TeleSur, a leftist propaganda outlet largely funded by the governments of Venezuela and Cuba, quotes a socialist leader claiming that Díaz “was well known as a criminal in the region and belonged to a gang” allegedly called Los Plateados, or the Silver Ones.
Opposition leaders present at the attack refute these claims. Tintori, who was sharing a stage with Díaz during the incident, has alleged that she, too, was a target of the attacks. Tintori has risen to prominence as a political leader in her own right following the arrest of López for organizing a peaceful assembly through his party, Popular Will. López is currently appealing a 13-year sentence for having organized the rally.
“We dropped to the floor and what I did was check my own body, because I felt that they had hit me. They wanted to kill me,” Tintori said following the attack. She noted also that, following Díaz’s shooting, a plane the group had been using to travel around the country to campaign for the December 6 elections had caught fire after the pilot realized upon touching ground that the brakes had been cut. “I have no doubts that that plane was intercepted by the regime, and I’m not afraid to say it,” Tintori said of the government.
The U.S. Department of State has issued a statement condemning Díaz’s murder and calling upon Maduro’s government “to ensure that this campaign is conducted in a manner to encourage full participation by the people of Venezuela.” The Venezuelan government has dismissed the statement as “insolent,” “in bad faith,” and “false.”