Why is a US senator tweeting pictures of a murdered dictator?

Rubio, in sunglasses, visits the Venezuela-Columbia border on Feb. 17.
Rubio, in sunglasses, visits the Venezuela-Columbia border on Feb. 17.
Image: AP Photo/Fernando Vergara
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Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio shared these images with his 3.7 million Twitter followers on Sunday (Feb. 24):

The pair of photos show Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, before and after a US-backed NATO coalition ejected him from power with an air bombing campaign in 2011. That year, he was captured by a rival militia in Libya’s ongoing civil war, tortured, and executed in the streets.

Why is Rubio sharing these images? To threaten Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolas Maduro, who was returned to power after elections last year that were called unfair by numerous international bodies, including the European UnionFreedom House and Amnesty International.”

The collapse of Venezuela’s socialist economy and political system—which began after the death of president Hugo Chavez in 2013—is now a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Following large protests against Nicolás Maduro’s government, an elected opposition leader, Juan Guaido, declared himself interim president and was recognized by other Latin American countries, the US, Canada, and eleven European states.

Maduro, however, isn’t going quietly, and his decision to block food, medicine, and other necessaries from reaching people in his country has abetted political chaos. On Saturday (Feb. 23), pro-Maduro security forces set fire to a convoy of aid trucks attempting to cross into the country from Columbia, killing at least four people.

Rubio, whose politics are driven in part by his family’s experience of the socialist revolution in Cuba, has been a vocal supporter of US military action to oust Maduro and relieve the humanitarian crisis. Earlier on Sunday, he shared a less-graphic pair of photos featuring former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, a US-backed strongman who lost the backing of Washington and was eventually ousted during a US invasion in 1989.

Experts question the wisdom of using US military action to break Maduro’s embargo and allow humanitarian aid, much less to affect regime change. Maduro has already used existing US sanctions to rally his supporters, and a foreign invasion could have a similar effect. A former US Air Force general says that military force is not the right choice. Venezuela is comparable in size to Iraq or Afghanistan, and could require a commensurate commitment of US resources.

Indeed, though Libya is no longer under Gaddafi’s yoke, the country is still in fighting a civil war eight years after his death.