Chavista Venezuelan candidate and de facto president Nicolas Maduro accused me recently of planning with the “Pentagon and CIA” to assassinate his democratic opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski. Of course, this is a baseless, malicious lie, but it should not be dismissed merely as a cynical campaign tactic.
For two years, Maduro was the person closest to the bedside of the late Hugo Chávez during his extended treatment in Cuba. Then and there, he joined a Cuban conspiracy to deceive the Venezuelan people about Chávez’s terminal condition and to convince the dutiful Chávez to sacrifice his health to secure the presidency for Maduro.
Maduro’s campaign of lies has begun to metastasize. During a Sunday morning television program, he dramatically alerted President Obama to the accusation that “Roger Noriega, Otto Reich, and functionaries of the Pentagon and the CIA (sic) are behind a plan to assassinate the presidential candidate of the Venezuelan right (Capriles Radonski), to create chaos in Venezuela – we have information from very good sources – to blame the government of Venezuela, to create chaos in Venezuela, to fill Venezuelans with hate.”
Maduro was repeating claims he made last week during a campaign event, in which he said he was dispatching agents of his secret police to ensure that Capriles Radonski would be safe. Ironically, Maduro’s recent accusations are inconsistent with a statement he made on March 2 that Capriles Radonski had recently been in Miami “conspiring with agents of mafia gangs directed by Roger Noriega” and others. For the record, I have not met or spoken with Henrique Capriles Radonski since the two of us chatted in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel on the margins of the annual Miami Herald conference over ten years ago.
However baseless, Maduro’s accusations should not be taken lightly because he has been following a script dictated by Cuban regime officials who, having bungled Chávez’s cancer treatment, are taking no chances imposing his successor. I have been studying the Cuban dictatorship for most of my adult life, and Havana employs a sinister tactic of ascribing to their critics what are actually motives and methods of the Castro regime.
I believe that any attempt to physically harm Capriles Radonski – or Maduro, for that matter – or to spark political violence in Venezuela would be a terrible tragedy. No responsible person would consider such a strategy, which is precisely why the Castro regime is capable of doing so. Indeed, senior chavista officials or ranking military officers who are suspected of disloyalty to Havana are even more vulnerable to such a threat – because such violence would eliminate an untrustworthy associate as well as serve as a pretext for a political crackdown against the democratic opposition.
I am not a Venezuelan, and I do not have the right or desire to be a protagonist in that country’s politics. I am one of many Americans preoccupied with the threats to our country emanating from the narco-terrorist, authoritarian state spawned by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. I have written, spoken, and testified before the US Congress on the chavista regime’s menacing international policies and, to a lesser extent, on the undemocratic tactics that it uses to retain power. My statements – including my categorical rejection of the baseless accusations being waged by Maduro and his Cuban strategists – are a matter of public record.
Unfortunately for Venezuelans, Maduro’s Cuban handlers probably recognize that violent rhetoric may not be enough to distract their political base from Maduro’s disastrous economic policies and his pale, pathetic impersonation of their fallen leader. They may descend from violent rhetoric to actual violence, under the delusion that anyone not trapped in their web of mendacity will excuse them of responsibility.