February 16, 2018 / 4:57 AM / 6 months ago

'Do you fear me?': Venezuela's Maduro vows to gatecrash regional summit

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s unpopular socialist president Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his right-wing Latin American counterparts showed intolerance by trying to exclude him from an upcoming summit in Lima - and he vowed to go anyway.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

“Do you fear me? You don’t want to see me in Lima? You’re going to see me. Because come rain or shine, by air, land, or sea, I will attend the Summit of the Americas,” Maduro told foreign journalists at the Miraflores presidential palace.

Peru’s center-right government this week said Maduro would not be welcome at the April summit, reinforcing his growing diplomatic isolation during a crackdown on dissent and a brutal economic crisis in Venezuela.

Later on Thursday, Peru’s Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz told journalists that Maduro “really needs to understand that in Peru we don’t want to receive him.”

Maduro also said Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri, with whom he has regularly sparred, should call a meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) group of Latin American nations with him.

“Call a meeting, dare, don’t be scared of me, President Macri,” said Maduro. “If you want to talk about Venezuela, let’s talk about Venezuela.”

Government critics say Maduro for years has refused to listen to advice that he should reform Venezuela’s crumbling economy that has spawned shortages, hyperinflation, malnutrition, and the return of once-controlled diseases. They also say he refuses to acknowledge Venezuela’s humanitarian suffering, making it futile to meet.

Maduro, a 55 year-old former bus driver and union leader, says right-wing regional governments are part of U.S.-led international conspiracy to topple him and take control of the OPEC member’s oil resources.

“They’re the most unpopular governments on the planet,” he said, naming Argentina, Colombia and Peru.

He lashed out at Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, whose parents were of Swiss and Polish descent and who studied at Oxford and Princeton, as particularly out of touch with Latin American realities.

“Kuczynski struggles to speak Spanish,” Maduro said.

Maduro can still count on support from leftist allies including Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. And Communist-run Cuba’s Foreign Ministry also said it rejected Venezuela’s exclusion from the summit and vowed “unshakeable solidarity” with Maduro’s government.

Venezuela, home to the world’s biggest crude reserves, has further backing from global giants China and Russia, which have both lent Caracas billions of dollars. Still, even their support has cooled somewhat during a fifth straight year of recession and widespread accusations of mismanagement and corruption.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Additional reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima; writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay

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