In case the world needed any more geopolitical risk "hotspots", overnight Venezuela's flailing president Nicolas Maduro, faced with an unprecedented economic crisis at home, decided to do what most authoritarian rulers do when faced with imminent civil unrest: point the finger abroad, and in this case, at Washington, as a distraction. With crude oil plunging, with opposition leaders being arrested, and with the economy generally in shambles, Venezuela has in recent weeks accused the United States of being behind an alleged coup plot. Then overnight, Maduro switched from broad generalizations to specifics when, as CNN reports, Maduro said Saturday an unspecified number of Americans were arrested "a few days ago" for engaging in espionage and recruitment activities.
More from CNN:
The President said they included an American pilot of Latin American origin, arrested in the southwest border state of Táchira.
He said the pilot was found in possession of "all kinds of documents" and was being interrogated by the authorities, though he did not identify him. The Venezuelan government has made many similar claims in recent years, without ever substantiating them.
Maduro also announced Saturday a series of measures, including visa requirements for U.S. citizens and the downsizing of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, to counteract what he called U.S. "interference" in his country.
Considering the US has not replied officially (yet), there are two possibilities: Maduro made up the whole thing, which is far more likely, or the US did indeed engage in some covert ops in Venezuela. Considering the CIA's recent track record around Africa and Eastern Europe, that possibility certainly can not be discounted.
Speaking at an "anti-imperialist" rally in the capital, Maduro - who is surely feeling slighted following recent US overtures toward former socialist peer Cuba - said visas would now be required for all U.S. visitors and that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas would now need foreign ministry approval for any meetings. The Embassy, which he said had more than 100 staff, is to be reduced to a number closer to the 17 Venezuelan diplomats based in Washington.
Additionally, a group of prominent U.S. officials, current and retired, will be banned from entering Venezuela because of what Maduro said was their involvement in "bombing Iraq, Syria and Vietnam" and other "terrorist" actions. The officials include George W. Bush, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet and several current members of Congress, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bob Menendez and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Following the Maduro's announcement Diaz-Balart reacted via Twitter, saying he has "always wanted to travel to a corrupt country that is not a free democracy. And now Castro's lap dog won't let me!"
The move comes after the U.S. government last month approved a law under which Venezuelan officials allegedly involved in human rights violations are to have their visas revoked and their U.S. assets frozen.
A relatively small, but noisy crowd, dressed mostly in revolutionary red, applauded and cheered the measures announced by the President from a platform outside the presidential palace in downtown Caracas.
Meanwhile, away from the arrest announcement, CNN also reported that "gour missionaries from Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Devils Lake, North Dakota were released by Venezuelan authorities on Saturday, a church official said."
Pastor Bruce Dick said the missionaries arrived in Venezuela on February 20 and were detained a few days ago.
"We love the Venezuelan people and have served alongside them for over 12 years," Dick said. "We have been praying along with hundreds or thousands of others for their release and for those in Venezuela who also have been affected by this."
It is unclear if the detention and release of these Americans is connected to Maduro's charges of espionage.
Should the price of Brent resume its downward trend, or even remain around $60 where it is a loss-maker fro Venezuela, expect even more amusing antics from Maduro, whose regime may be falling apart before his eyes, however if anything, that only makes him more unpredictable and irrational.