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Venezuelan president sees conspiracies

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
updated 7:59 PM EST, Mon February 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Maduro shares the conspiracy theories of Hugo Chavez
  • Maduro says there is an attempted coup in progress against him
  • His news conference lasted for more than two hours

(CNN) -- There's an attempted coup in progress in Venezuela, an attempt orchestrated and directed by political and financial elites in the United States.

Outlandish? Not if you ask Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who spoke at length during a news conference Friday night about his allegations of conspiracy, which others call conspiracy theories. His staff made sure foreign media, including CNN journalists, got an invitation.

The news conference, carried live on state-run TV, lasted two hours and 28 minutes. It may have seemed like an eternity to foreign correspondents, but it was brief by Venezuelan standards, especially compared to Maduro's predecessor. The late President Hugo Chavez would talk politics, economics, and baseball for hours on end. He would occasionally serenade Venezuelans while addressing the entire nation on live TV.

"There's a world campaign against Venezuela," Maduro told correspondents. "It's a campaign to justify an intervention in the domestic affairs of Venezuela."

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It's a talking point Chavez, who died of cancer last year, also made frequently. Talk about foreign invasion or intervention resonates with loyalists and galvanizes members of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, spoke not only about alleged conspiracies involving an international plan to destabilize his government, but also about Venezuelan and Latin American history, United States politics, democracy, the right to a free higher education, free trade agreements, the Venezuelan opposition and Spider Man, just to name a few.

He spent a good portion of the news conference blaming foreign media for what he called "a brutal manipulation campaign."

The campaign "has created the perception in the world that Venezuela is on the verge of civil war, that here in Venezuela we have a group of docile students opposing an illegitimate government," Maduro said.

The president had denied or revoked press credentials for seven CNN journalists the day before. At the news conference, he announced CNN could continue reporting inside Venezuela. The president also apologized on behalf of Venezuela for an armed robbery against a CNN team and said the incident is being investigated.

At least eight people have died in the last two weeks in clashes at anti-government protests throughout Venezuela. Among the victims was Genesis Carmona, 22, a beauty queen who was shot in the head while participating in a protest in the city of Valencia.

Protesters complain the socialist government has mismanaged the country creating all kinds of problems including insecurity, shortages of food and basic products (like toilet paper), blackouts and rampant inflation that last year reached 56 percent, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela. Maduro blames most of the problems on a foreign conspiracy.

An opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, turned himself in on Tuesday after being charged with arson and conspiracy during the protests. Maduro says his government had to take the former mayor and presidential candidate to a jail in military complex "to protect him" from a conspiracy to kill him.

Asked about the polarization of Venezuela, Maduro said "there's no democracy without a politicized people."

Asked about why tensions between loyalists and the opposition have increased, he said, "you the media have fanned the flames of hatred."

The criticism against his government happens because "he who leads gets hit the most," Maduro said.

In spite of recent tensions, the socialists have had important electoral victories in Venezuela -- 18 victories at the ballot box since 1999, according to Maduro.

The ruling party obtained 55 percent of the vote in local elections in December, even though Maduro himself won the presidency with a margin of only 1.4%.

"A win is a win," he said.

In spite of blasting the United States multiple times, Maduro extended an olive branch, saying he would like to open a dialogue with the country that buys 40 percent of Venezuelan oil. A start, he said, would be to once again exchange ambassadors.

He also said that as a child he would wear Spider-Man or Superman costumes and that he gets excited when he listens to blues music.

"I think I might've been from Mississippi in another life, right?," he said with a smile.

Maduro is nearing the end of his first year of a 6-year presidential term and hinted he wouldn't mind staying longer in power.

But he carefully clarified that he believes in democracy and has invited the opposition multiple times to talk.

"Dictator? What dictator?" he said.

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