Venezuela has taken another step toward total isolation from the US by announcing limitations and travel restrictions on American diplomats and tourists — and by reportedly detaining an American pilot accused of espionage.
Venezuela will curb the number of US embassy staff allowed in the country and require tourist visas for American visitors, President Nicholas Maduro declared in a passionate public speech Saturday. Maduro blamed the restrictions on "gringo" meddling and told the crowd that he had detained several American citizens for espionage, including a pilot. Neither he nor the US State Department gave further details on the pilot, the Associated Press reported.
"The United States thinks it's the owner of the world, police of the world, but the era of imperialism ended already — what is this?" Maduro lamented to a crowd of thousands of supporters in a televised speech in Caracas. "We're going to get rid of imperialism… enough imperialism!"
"Enough imperialism!" the crowd chanted along, cheering and waving flags.
Maduro also said US "human rights violators" would be prohibited from entering the country.
"People who have violated human rights and bombarded Iraq, Syria, and Vietnam will not be allowed to get a visa or to enter the country," he said. Maduro also specifically banned George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Marco Rubio and a few other high-profile politicians from entrance.
The sanctions follow restrictions imposed by the US on Venezuela, including a travel ban on top officials from the Latin American nation who are accused of human rights violations.
Venezuela's new tourist visa requirement, which will require Americans to pay between $160 and $190 when they enter, is a response to the visas the US requires Venezuelans to obtain, Maduro said in the speech. But the money could also help the cash-strapped country, which has a strong black market where dollars are in high demand.
As Venezuela's economic and security situation has drastically deteriorated in recent years, relations with the US have also worsened. Maduro accused Washington of recently helping local opponents attempt a coup. The US government has repeatedly denied the accusation.
"I'm very sorry, Mr. President, that you have gone down this dead end," Maduro orated, addressing President Barack Obama. All television and radio stations were required to broadcast the speech.
"The Venezuelan government felt obligated to take these measures to protect the people, in the face of continued interference from the United States," state-backed publication Telesur wrote.
The authoritarian leader limits freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and trade with neighboring Colombia, and Venezuela is starkly divided between his supporters and impassioned opponents.
Venezuela has also been plagued by violence and has the world's second-highest murder rate. The country's security forces reportedly killed 126 minors in 2014, a 55 percent increase from the previous year.
Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman