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Maduro accuses Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen of funding Venezuela opposition group

Venezuelan-Americans living in South Florida dismissive of president's claims


DORAL, Fla. – The president of Venezuela is accusing two U.S. politicians from South Florida of financing right-wing opposition leaders to cause turmoil and violence in his country.

In a state address this week, President Nicholas Maduro said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., paid cash to the opposition group in the hopes that it would destabilize the Venezuelan government.

"He is a terrorist," Venezuelan-American Jenny Melo told Local 10 News reporter Todd Tongen. "That is how I see him."

There is no love lost between Venezuelan-Americans and Maduro. Nowhere is this more evident than at El Arepazo 2 in Doral, where opinions are served up just as much as the Venezuelan delicacies.

"Miss Venezuela died because of the violence that he provokes," Melo said. "He is involved in it and he produces it -- period."

Manager Lorenzo Di Stefano doesn't believe Maduro's allegations.

"That is not true," Di Stefano said.

The largest concentration of Venezuelans living in the U.S. is in South Florida, particularly Weston and Doral. They are not shy when it comes to criticizing Maduro's regime.

"Every time he talks, he says a lot of different things, just blaming someone else," Vincent Porcar said.

Both lawmakers issued statements denying Maduro's claims.

"Nicolas Maduro has said the late Hugo Chavez once visited him as a reincarnated bird, and it sounds like he's having another similar episode," Rubio said in a statement. "Nicolas Maduro is a corrupt clown, and the Venezuelan people deserve better than the repression, economic mismanagement and human rights abuses they are getting from their current corrupt leaders."

Rubio is a Republican presidential candidate in next year's election.

"This false claim by Maduro is another attempt to concoct a distraction away from his dismal policies that have caused food shortages, high unemployment, a fraudulent electoral process and an economic crisis," Ros-Lehtinen said. "The people of Venezuela know that the fault for this hardship is not due to any outside element, but falls squarely on the shoulders of Maduro and his corrupt regime.  It's heartbreaking that President (Barack) Obama has looked the other way on the human rights abuses in Venezuela and has not added the many names that must be added to the list of violators so that they are denied entry to the U.S. and their assets are frozen."

While Maduro's only proof is people on video making those claims, Venezuelan-Americans living in South Florida weren't surprised by his accusations.

Henry Flores said Maduro is "totally wrong" and blaming somebody different each day.

"Tomorrow he could blame it on me, and I have lived here 20 years," Flores said.

Follow Todd Tongen on Twitter @toddtongen

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