Venezuela Accuses Ousted Opposition Leader, US Ambassador of Coup Attempt
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan government unveiled widespread accusations of conspiracy to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro, which implicated a number of high-profile leaders of the opposition, including ousted legislator María Corina Machado and the United States Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker.In an extensive press conference led by Mayor of Caracas Jorge Rodríguez, the Chavista government revealed what they called a "criminal investigation" against Machado, Whitaker, and others for "assassination" and "coup" activity. Officials showed screenshots of emails they alleged to be correspondence between Machado and Whitaker and Machado and Diego Arria. Rodríguez described the language as the language of "serial killers."
"We need to clean up this rubbish, starting at the top, taking advantage of the global climate with Ukraine and now Thailand, as soon as possible," read one email, while another demanded that Maduro be "annihilated." As The Washington Post notes, "No information was given on how the apparently private emails were obtained, and no evidence was presented on their authenticity." In another email, Machado is alleged to have written that Whitaker "reconfirms his support and indicated new steps" and that "we can count on a stronger wallet than that of the regime, to break the international security ring."
"All the emails and every one of the words are false and absolutely invented. ... I don't want anything bad to happen to him [Maduro], I just want him to resign," Machado said at a press conference following the announcement of the accusations. She also absolved Ambassador Whitaker of being involved in any coup attempt, explaining that she had met with him and with "his boss, Roberta Jacobson, just as [she] met with the chancellor of Canada." She did so because, she stated, "As deputy, it is my responsibility and my duty that the world know what is happening in Venezuela."
Machado also said in her press conference that she would file an official complaint against the Venezuelan government for identity theft and "incitation to hate." Machado, who was ousted from the legislature for appealing to the Organization of American States to intervene in the government-sponsored violence in Venezuela, has previously been attacked with tear gas while attempting to return to her office in the National Assembly.
Infobae also reported that Arria responded to the accusations via Twitter by noting that his iPhone had been stolen, and "through them they entered my email accounts and social media and fabricated messages I did not write," he said.
Meanwhile, the United States government has denied any involvement in the affair. In a statement, the State Department called the accusations "baseless and false," noting, "We’ve seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States."
On his nationwide radio show this week, Maduro promised that he would fight the United States "on every global stage," and he denounced the House of Representatives for voting in favor of targeted sanctions against Venezuela's wealthiest and most well-connected government officials. "Only colonial empires can practice extraterritorial law," he told his audience. "Any law approved by the Congress of the United States to sanction Venezuela is spurious, we do not recognize it, we reject it and we confront them on every global stage."
After significant pressure from Republican legislators like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the House of Representatives passed sanctions this week against the Venezuelan regime, designed similar to those against Russian officials in response to the crisis in Ukraine. The bill now has to pass through the Senate, where it is currently being debated.