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Ted Cruz On Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro 'Taking A Page' From Castro Playbook

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WASHINGTON -- With all eyes on the bloodshed in Ukraine, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) offered a sharp warning Friday on another political crisis: demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

Cruz issued a statement as anti-government protests in Venezuela's western state of Tachira reached their largest since the death of the country's longtime president Hugo Chavez nearly a year ago. Violent clashes between protesters and security forces have left eight dead and about 137 injured, the government said on Friday.

"As opposition protests drag into their second week in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro is taking a page out of the Castro playbook to violently oppress Venezuelans who are demanding an end to his disastrous rule," Cruz said. "Activists have been detained and abused, and even shot dead in the streets."

The Texas Republican condemned the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who could face up to 10 years in prison on charges of arson and conspiracy. Authorities dropped initial plans to pursue murder and terrorism charges against Lopez, whose arrest has widely been regarded as a politically motivated move to silence Maduro's dissenters.

Cruz said Lopez "faces the summary judgment of a makeshift kangaroo court," while adding that "the perseverance of the protestors in the face of these thuggish tactics suggests there are still many who do not accept the failed socialist policies of Hugo Chavez and his hand-picked successor as inevitable." He added that the United States should press for Lopez's "immediate and unconditional release."

Cruz's comparison of Maduro to the Castro regime is not surprising, given the senator's strong feelings toward Cuban President Raul Castro and his predecessor and brother Fidel Castro. Cruz's father fled Cuba before Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959, and Cruz himself walked out of Nelson Mandela's memorial service when Raul Castro delivered a speech. A spokesperson for Cruz told Newsmax at the time that Raul Castro "has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents."

Cruz also criticized President Barack Obama's administration for not taking greater steps in encouraging the Organization of American States to supervise a recount after Maduro's controversial election last April, when he defeated opposition leader and Gov. Henrique Capriles in Venezuela’s closest presidential election in 45 years. Cruz said the OAS should send a delegation to Venezuela to investigate alleged human rights abuses under Maduro.

The White House, for its part, has focused its attention this week on the violent clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in Ukraine. At least 75 people have been killed in Kiev since Tuesday and an estimated 571 left injured.

On Friday, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Tony Blinken, Obama's deputy national security advisor, why the U.S. is not showing the same aggression toward Maduro as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Blinken said the crisis in Venezuela was "a problem of [Maduro's] own making and they need to resolve it."

"When it comes to Venezuela, we've been very clear in our views but we also don't want to give Maduro the excuse of making the United States look like the problem," Blinken said. "Putting the United States in the middle of the story just creates an easy distraction and an ability for him to point pictures at something that is not the problem."

Obama's National Security Council tweeted later in the day that it was "deeply concerned" about Venezuela's decision to revoke CNN's press credentials, after Maduro said Friday that CNN journalists were engaging in "war propaganda." "#Venezuela needs to live up to its int’l obligations & respect freedom of speech, assembly, press; engage in real dialogue w/ its ppl," the NSC said in a subsequent tweet.

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