Miami's Congressional Delegation Really Excited To Get Banned From Venezuela

Down in Venezuela, things are not going great. Condoms are retailing for hundreds of dollars, inflation has leapt to 60 percent and there's such an acute shortage of toilet paper that Caracas is considering a deal to trade crude oil for Charmin.

So in the finest tradition of his mentor Hugo Chavez, President Nicolas Maduro has responded by thundering about an American assassination plot, arresting opposition leaders and -- this weekend -- calling Miami's congressional delegation "terrorists" and banning them from ever visiting Venezuela.

Miami's political leaders weren't exactly crushed by the move.

Maduro announced the move in a speech on Saturday that included a wide range of push backs against American interests. The Venezuelan leader ordered the American embassy to downsize and announced U.S. travelers now need a visa to visit.

He saved his most bombastic rhetoric, though, for a list of current and former U.S. officials now banned from entering Venezuela. The ban targets officials complicit in staging the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Maduro said, including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. (Which, OK, if we ran a country we'd probably ask Customs to keep an eye out for those two.)

But Maduro didn't stop there. Among the "terrorist" officials, he announced, would be "ultra right-wing Congressman Bob Menendez," Marco Rubio, "the she-wolf Ileana Ros-Lehtinen," and Mario Diaz-Balart.

The "she-wolf" herself wasn't exactly sweating the move.

Diaz-Balart also took the ban in stride:

Rubio, meanwhile, took a more statesmanlike approach, ignoring Maduro's ban but striking out against his human rights record:

Of course all this political flamethrowing, in some ways, is doing just what Maduro hopes it will: Distracting attention away from what's actually happening in Caracas right now.

Even by Chavez's standards, the president has taken a heavy-handed approach to the escalating financial crisis, arresting the mayor of Caracas among other opposition leaders and railing against supposed American plots. Tensions are rising in the capital, with demonstrations being met with tear gas and riot police. Amidst that crackdown, a 14-year-old was shot and killed by police in an Andean city.

With or without Miami political influence, this crisis looks to get a lot worse before it gets better.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink