Mind your own business, Venezuela foreign minister tells Kerry

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s foreign minister yesterday rebuked his US counterpart, John Kerry, for criticizing the handling of street protests and reiterated accusations Washington wants to topple the socialist government.

In the US government’s strongest comments since demonstrations began in February, Kerry said last week that Venezuela’s government had shown “total failure” of good faith in now-suspended talks to stem the unrest.

In Venezuela’s worst violence in a decade, 42 people have died during months of daily protests demanding President Nicolas Maduro’s departure and solutions to economic hardships.

“This is not an issue that concerns Mr John Kerry,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters yesterday after returning from the regional Unasur bloc’s meeting in Ecuador.

Maduro, who became president after the death of Hugo Chavez last year, says the protests are a veneer for a US-supported conspiracy to bring him down. “It’s not Bolivarian paranoia; these are real facts that clearly violate international law,” he added, next to a photo of Chavez, who re-named the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in homage to independence hero Simon Bolivar.

The Maduro government is particularly angry at some US legislators’ calls for sanctions on officials, though the Obama administrations has ex-pressed reluctance for fear of curbing attempts at political reconciliation within Venezuela.

At its weekend meeting, the Unasur group of South American governments explicitly condemned the sanctions proposal as “violating the principle of non-intervention.”

Venezuela made a formal complaint of US interference at the Unasur meeting, in the Galapagos Islands, and journalists at Monday’s news conference were given a booklet of comments by Kerry and other US officials to bolster the Venezuelan government’s case.

Washington has scoffed at the accusations, saying they are a smokescreen to hide the government’s domestic problems.

The spectre of US involvement in Latin America always stirs strong emotions in the region, which remembers the US government’s backing of military coups in the 20th century. The Maduro government constantly reminds Venezuelans how Washington appeared to back a brief toppling of Chavez in 2002.

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