Sen. Marco Rubio has long been one of the strongest critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. But on Sunday, the Venezuelan strongman must have thanked the senator from Florida after he handed him a gift in the form of a tweet. Amid tweets condemning the Venezuelan government and quoting bible verses, Rubio sent out a graphic tweet showing a before-and-after style set of photographs of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Qaddafi was brutally murdered after a U.S. bombing in 2011 as part of a NATO-led intervention. Human Rights Watch has characterized the killing as a possible war crime.
“Qaddafi was a horrible man. He was also anally raped with a bayonet and beaten to death in the street by a mob, and a US senator is celebrating that,” journalist Dan Murphy wrote on Twitter. “What a time to be alive.” In short, thanks to Rubio, Maduro has something else he can point to as evidence of his claim that he is the victim of a U.S.-sponsored coup.
Rubio’s tweet takes on added significance if you consider that it came a few hours after he posted another pair of images showing Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega under arrest in the United States.
The pair of tweets were anything but subtle and clearly appear to be a message for Maduro. And it will surely be taken that way by Maduro and his inner circle in Caracas. After all, characterizing the Venezuelan president as the next in a line of leaders that the United States wants to depose is precisely the message that Maduro is spouting to Venezuelans as he rejects much-needed international aid.
Many on Twitter were quick to criticize Rubio for sending exactly the wrong kind of message that the United States should be espousing about Venezuela right now. Especially from a senator. “Calling for another Libya is not the way to defeat Maduro,” writes Ian Bremmer. Oliver Stuenkel, who is an international relations professor in Brazil, was a bit more direct: “This is remarkably stupid.”
Support work like this for just $1
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Become a Slate Plus member to support our work. Your first month is only $1.