CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A former spy chief under the late leader Hugo Chavez is emerging as a political player in turbulent Venezuela, mistrusted by the opposition and despised by the government as he travels the country in a possible bid for the presidency.
Miguel Rodriguez Torres is a longshot who hopes to offer a third way for Venezuelans weary of the country’s violence and economic woes.
Reviled among President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents for leading a crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2014, Rodriguez Torres has also alienated government loyalists with his sharp criticism of the socialist administration.
But he nevertheless is finding an audience among Venezuelans who have abandoned support for a government that has failed to resolve the economic crisis but still distrust the opposition.
In a recent interview, the 53-year-old Rodriguez Torres blamed Maduro for destroying Venezuela’s oil-rich economy, failing to rein in violence from pro-government militias and silencing critics. He said he is wary of the street protests launched by the president’s foes and instead preaches a message of reconciliation grounded in his evangelical Christian faith.
“The rhetoric of hatred and fear that both sides have used is causing great damage to the country,” Rodriguez Torres told The Associated Press. “We have to think in the country’s interests first and not continue to see each other as enemies.”
Pollsters haven’t included Rodriguez Torres in their surveys yet, but his criticism of Maduro hasn’t gone unnoticed. High-ranking officials in recent weeks have accused him of treason or playing into the opposition’s hands. His aides say Venezuelan media are under pressure not to interview him and social media is filled with speculation he could be jailed for speaking out like other once loyal military bigwigs.
“There’s no third way or bridges of reconciliation with FASCISM,” Vice President Tareck El Aissami said in a recent barrage of tweets directed at Rodriguez Torres, a…