By Justin Sink - 03/10/14 11:17 AM EDT
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro dismissed Vice President Biden's claims Monday that Caracas is spreading "conspiracy theories" about the U.S. to distract from unrest at home.
"The American government has joined an international media conspiracy, which aims to generate a false image of war and general repression in Venezuela, when, in reality, the situation has been created by artificial violence against the government," Maduro said, according to a translation provided by Latin Times.
The statement came after Biden called the Venezuelan government's efforts against opposition protesters "alarming" and accused Maduro of spreading “outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States.”
In an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, Biden accused the Venezuelan government of using force against peaceful protests, limiting the free press and arresting political opponents.
"Maduro has thus far tried to distract his people from the profound issues at stake in Venezuela by concocting totally false and outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States,” Biden said, according to The Associated Press.
"The situation in Venezuela reminds me of previous eras, when strongmen governed through violence and oppression, and human rights, hyperinflation, scarcity, and grinding poverty wrought havoc on the people of the hemisphere," Biden continued.
Nearly three dozen protesters have died in the clashes in the capital city of Caracas, leading to questions about the authority of Maduro, who took office less than a year ago. The Venezuelan president has billed himself as the successor to the late longtime leader Hugo Chavez.
Last month, Venezuela ordered three American consular officials out of the country, accusing them of conspiring with the protesters. The White House responded by declaring three Venezuelan diplomats persona non grata in Washington.
Last week, a senior administration official said the protests in Venezuela "will be at or near the top of the agenda" in meetings during Biden's trip to Latin America.
"I think the entire region has shown concern regarding events in Venezuela, particularly to the arrest of people for freely expressing their views and for exercising their right to freedom of assembly, among other issues," a second senior administration official said.
"But we’ve been very clear that the view of the United States is that a successful outcome is going to require third party mediations. And we’re going to continue to support any efforts to achieve the release of people arrested in this upsurge, and also to call on the government to halt its practice really of demonizing the opposition and of allowing essentially vigilante groups to intimidate and use violence against people who are peacefully demonstrating against the government."