U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned Wednesday there are signs Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is planning to start using his country’s military and its weapons against protesters, as tensions flare on the streets of Caracas and beyond.
“We need to keep the pressure on Maduro,” she testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “There are signs that he is now going to start using his military and use weapons and anything you’ve seen on TV … it is so much worse.”
The comments follow a bizarre incident on Tuesday, when Maduro said a stolen police helicopter fired on Venezuela's Supreme Court, calling it a thwarted "terrorist attack" aimed at ousting him from power.
"It could've caused a tragedy with several dozen dead and injured," Maduro said.
Maduro opponents, though, took to social media to accuse the president of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against Venezuelans seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.
Venezuela has been roiled by anti-government protests the past three months that have left at least 75 people dead and hundreds injured. Security forces have been clashing with protesters all along, but Haley’s comments Wednesday suggest more violence and a tougher crackdown by the government ahead.
“It is a terrible situation,” she said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told the ambassador that Maduro is “acting with impunity.”
The helicopter incident capped a volatile 24 hours that began with widespread looting in the coastal city of Maracay on Monday night and continued Tuesday when opposition lawmakers got into a heated scuffle with security forces assigned to protect the National Assembly.
At least 68 supermarkets, pharmacies and liquor stores were looted and several government offices burned following anti-government protests in Maracay, which is about a 90 minute drive from Caracas.
“[Protesters] just want to be heard,” Haley testified Wednesday. “And it goes back to any government that doesn’t listen and take care of their people, conflict will follow. It is a direct correlation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.