CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is used to being attacked by critics as a communist dictator, but one label the Latin American socialist was not expecting was to be compared to U.S. tycoon and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Venezuela’s recent move to close border crossings and deport hundreds of Colombians has reminded Maduro’s opponents of Trump’s proposal to deport undocumented immigrants en masse and make Mexico pay for a wall separating it from the United States.
“Maduro criticizes Donald Trump, but his acts against Colombian immigration are worse than the magnate’s words,” said Saverio Vivas, an opposition politician.
Maduro shut crossings on the border last week after a shootout between smugglers and troops left three soldiers wounded. Since then, Colombia has accused Venezuela of stepping up deportations and at times separating children from their parents, which has also drawn criticism from human rights groups.
Internet memes depicting Trump with Maduro’s bushy black mustache have swept social media. Others show Maduro donning Trump’s trademark blond comb-over.
Maduro brushes aside the comparisons with the American billionaire.
“They’re saying Maduro is like Donald Trump! Imagine,” he said during an hours-long television broadcast on Monday. “I don’t even have his hairstyle - and least of all his bank account.”
In strongly worded attacks, Maduro has also said recession-hit Venezuela was a “victim” of the Colombian right and black marketeers intent on exacerbating shortages by smuggling everything from detergent to gasoline across the border.
The porous 2,219-kilometer (1,379-mile) frontier is frequently traversed by smugglers as well as illegal armed groups.
Opponents counter that currency and price controls by Venezuela are to blame for the lucrative border smuggling, and say Maduro is seeking to whip up nationalistic fervor by using Colombia as a scapegoat.
Former Colombian president Andres Pastrana, a conservative critical of Maduro, recently said the Venezuelan leader’s comments “are clearly from the Latin American Trump.”
With an increasing number of Venezuelans souring on Maduro’s two-year administration as he fails to take urgent action in the face of biting shortages, roaring inflation and surging crime, some say the unlikely comparison with Trump rings true.
“In my opinion they’re both nutters,” said 21-year-old law student Pedro Torrealba. “It’s not right that they’re deporting Colombians. I feel terrible because my country is looking very bad.”
Editing by Matthew Lewis