Caracas (AFP) – The Venezuelan government has sharply condemned the suggestion by US Senator Marco Rubio that “the world would support” an armed coup to remove President Nicolas Maduro, whom the American lawmaker denounced as a “dictator.”
The Venezuelan armed forces are “committed to the constitution” and will defend the presidential elections set for April 22, said Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
Arreaza suggested that Washington wanted to replace Maduro with a right-wing dictator like those who ruled regional countries with an iron fist in years past, someone like Augusto Pinochet of Chile.
“But these are different times,” Arreaza, who recently toured Caribbean countries, told the Telesur network on Friday.
Rubio tweeted on Friday that “the world would support the Armed Forces in #Venezuela if they decide to protect the people & restore democracy by removing a dictator.”
He added that “soldiers eat out of garbage cans & their families go hungry in #Venezuela while Maduro & friends live like kings & block humanitarian aid.”
And he quoted the country’s national hero, the “Liberator” Simon Bolivar, as saying, “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion is a right.”
Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, chairs a Senate subcommittee dealing with democracy and human rights in the Western Hemisphere.
US President Donald Trump said last year he would not “rule out a military option” in Venezuela amid the deepening unrest there. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino called Trump’s remark an “act of craziness.”
Maduro is seeking re-election to a second six-year term. With the opposition coalition barred from fielding a candidate and several top Maduro critics banned, opponents of the deeply unpopular leftist president accuse him of rigging the April vote.
Presidential elections were not due until December. But the Constituent Assembly, which is stacked with Maduro loyalists, moved the date forward.
The country is suffering dire food and medicine shortages brought on by low oil prices and economic mismanagement. It is teetering on the brink of default and is increasingly isolated internationally.