WASHINGTON -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not take kindly to sharp criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) over violent demonstrations between anti-government protesters and security forces in the western state of Tachira.
Maduro attacked Rubio as "el loco de los locos," which translates to "the craziest of the crazies," in a video posted to YouTube Sunday and first reported by the Daily Caller. Maduro said Rubio was a "corrupt bandit linked to Posada Carriles," referring to Luis Posada Carriles, the former CIA operative who is viewed as a terrorist by the Cuban and Venezuelan governments. "He doesn't even know what's happening in Venezuela," Maduro added of Rubio.
Watch the video below, with Maduro's comments on Rubio beginning at the 1:15:00 mark.
Maduro's comments were presumably made in response to a statement from Rubio last week condemning "the ongoing wave of repression by the government in Venezuela."
"Nicolás Maduro and his thugs should know that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable for their cruelty and violations of human rights," Rubio said. "The people of Venezuela have suffered long enough and, as they continue taking to the streets in peaceful protest, I stand with them and against the Venezuelan government’s brutal and lethal tactics."
Rubio also called on President Barack Obama to identify and sanction individuals engaging in any human rights violations. Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, did not immediately return a request for comment, but provided the statement below to the Daily Caller:
Maduro looks like the typical tyrannical coward, attacking those who speak the truth about him and authorizing violence against innocent people from the comfort of his office. We need more people calling out his abuses, and more media outlets to focus on what’s going on in Venezuela. Ultimately, Maduro should listen to the Venezuelan people that are demanding real democracy and accountability.
Rubio took to Twitter Sunday evening to respond to the Venezuelan president's video, calling Maduro "Havana's puppet."
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 23, 2014
The student-led protests against Maduro's government have taken a deadly turn, leaving eight dead and about 137 injured. The demonstrations are rooted in both social and economic frustration, including the country's high crime rate, shortages of basic goods, and 56 percent inflation last year.
Maduro's government has cracked down on protesters and arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in what has widely been considered a politically motivated move to quell the protests. Lopez faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of arson and conspiracy, after authorities dropped initial plans to charge him with murder and terrorism.
The Venezuelan government also revoked CNN's press credentials Friday after Maduro accused the network of engaging in "war propaganda," but then changed course and said the journalists could stay if they report "in a balanced way." The White House said it was "deeply concerned" about the course of action against CNN, but has so far stayed out of the conflict in the country.
Maduro has nonetheless called for direct talks with Obama, all the while accusing the U.S. of interfering with Venezuelan affairs. Maduro expelled three American diplomats from the country last week, claiming they had used a visa program as cover to help bolster student protests against the government.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told The Huffington Post that "expelling [U.S.] diplomatic officials was not a serious way to engage with us."
"The situation in Venezuela is one that must be resolved among Venezuelans first and foremost, so President Maduro’s first dialogue should be with the millions of Venezuelan citizens who seek to exercise their fundamental freedoms," Hayden said in an email. "We have said before that when Venezuela decides to engage constructively on matters of mutual interest, we would welcome that."
Maduro has also drawn heat from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who, like Rubio, called on the White House to play a more active role in investigating potential human rights abuses under the current government. In a statement Friday, Cruz said Maduro was "taking a page out of the Castro playbook to violently oppress Venezuelans who are demanding an end to his disastrous rule."
The protests are the largest since the death of Venezuela's longtime president Hugo Chavez nearly a year ago. Maduro subsequently defeated opposition leader and Gov. Henrique Capriles last April in the country's closest presidential election in 45 years.
Roque Planas contributed reporting.