Maduro Sanctions
Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a rally to reject U.S. sanctions, Dec. 15, 2014. The words on the podium read, "Respect Venezuela, we don't accept sanctions from the empire." Reuters/Carlos Garcia

Venezuela’s government won’t be taking U.S. sanctions without a fight. Days after the U.S. Congress passed a bill to freeze assets and impose travel bans on officials in Caracas involved in cracking down on protesters this spring, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro hit back with a rally and a pledge to bring the U.S. to court for “imperialist” actions abroad.

Maduro, speaking in a national address Monday, called on Venezuela’s legislature to form a committee of lawyers specializing in human rights to investigate “imperialist nations which have bombed Libya, Iraq and Syria and that have destroyed our brothers.” The committee would be made up of Venezuelans and foreigners, he said, and would also investigate alleged crimes perpetrated by non-U.S. entities, including former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, whom Maduro accused as a “murderer” for supporting the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Maduro also made reference to domestic unrest in the U.S. over the recent grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown (whom he mistakenly referenced as Chris Brown) and Eric Garner: “See what happened with Chris Brown [sic] in the U.S. city of Ferguson or Eric Garner who was choked in New York. It is the major image of what is an oppression of an imperialist police state against its own people.”

The address came as thousands of government supporters gathered to simultaneously commemorate the 15th anniversary of the nation’s constitution and protest against the U.S. sanctions bill. Maduro had some choice words of his own for the U.S. lawmakers who supported the bill. “Insolent Yankees of the north, they know where they have to stick their sanctions!” he said.

The fiery rhetoric comes as Venezuela is grappling with economic troubles in the wake of historically low oil prices and soaring inflation that have amplified fears that the country may default on its debts. Maduro announced Monday that he was shifting the duties of his vice president and cabinet toward “winning the economic war,” even as he stated that he was aiming to expand Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which offers oil at preferential prices to its neighbors in the region.