U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a fierce critic of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, warned Tuesday that tyrants often believe they’re invulnerable — his first, indirect reference to his own cryptic tweeted images over the weekend showing dictators during their brutal downfalls.
Venezuela has strongly condemned the tweets from the Florida senator, and the country’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza displayed one of them Tuesday at a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York showing Libya’s late leader Moammar Gadhafi with blood on his face, describing it as a “call to murder” and accusing the U.S. government of interfering in Venezuelan affairs.
“Can this man represent the people of the United States, the people of Florida? Does the United States share those values?” Arreaza asked.
Rubio had tweeted the images without words: side-by-side photos of a smiling Gadhafi in sunglasses and Gadhafi about to be killed by a mob in 2011; Romania’s communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in power, next to rifle-wielding soldiers leading him and his wife to their execution; Panama’s Manuel Noriega before and after he was in custody following the 1989 U.S. invasion.
On Tuesday, Rubio reacted to an opinion column defending him, by issuing a new tweet that said, “History is full of examples of tyrants who believe they are invulnerable & then face sudden collapse.”
Rubio’s tweets raised eyebrows among some online activists who felt they went too far in promoting violence but have largely been cheered in South Florida where there is strong sentiment among Latin American exiles against the socialist governments of Venezuela and Cuba.
Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, defended Rubio, saying he wants to increase international pressure.
“He is trying to draw a parallel between these repressive, violent, dictatorial men and the regime in Venezuela,” Suarez told The Associated Press. “All dictators ultimately meet their end. Often times, they meet their end in a violent way.”
Florida is home to an estimated 190,000 Venezuelans. Many of those exiles arrived in the past decade as a result of the economic and political crisis under Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. After decades of communism in their homeland, Cuban-Americans in Miami also feel reinvigorated seeing the effort of Venezuelans to oust the socialist leader.
“I thought the tweets were excellent,” said Diego Suarez, a Cuban businessman who is well-known in the exile community. “I think this helps open the brains of tyrants.”
Opposition leader Juan Guaido has won the support of more than 50 governments around the world since he declared himself the interim president in January. He argued Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate because some popular opposition candidates were barred from running.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday evening that although she believes in continuing backing Guaido and support free and fair elections, the tweets were not appropriate.
“It is completely inappropriate for a senator to tweet those images. That’s not the way to find a peaceful resolution,” she said in a statement.