On Tuesday night, Marco Rubio was flying back to Miami from a presidential campaign trip to Iowa. Meantime, his name was being invoked on state-run television -- in Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro publicized a video in which an accused murderer claims last year's protests against the Venezuelan government were financed in part by Rubio and another Miami Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Both politicians denounced the allegations as absurd.
Prisoner José Rafael Pérez Venta offers no details in the video about how much money was involved or how it was obtained, other than the say it came through a woman he identified as Betti Grossi, according to a Spanish-language report by the EFE news agency.
Pérez Venta also claims ties to Maduro's political opponents in Venezuela, and says further financing for protests came from a U.S. embassy worker and from the government of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe, Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen are vocal Maduro critics.
The video is of a purported interrogation in which an off-screen interrogator whose voice has been distorted asks questions to Pérez Venta, who has been accused with dismembering a woman whose body parts were find on the side of a Caracas road. Venezuela is one of the world's most dangerous countries.
On Wednesday, the two Miamians dismissed Maduro's claims as a sign of desperation from a head of state whose country faces deep economic and social turmoil.
"Nicolas Maduro has said the late Hugo Chavez once visited him as a reincarnated bird, and it sounds like he's having another similar episode," Rubio said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "Nicolás Maduro is a corrupt clown, and the Venezuelan people deserve better than the repression, economic mismanagement and human rights abuses they are getting from their current corrupt leaders."
Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement of her own:
"This false claim by Maduro is another attempt to concoct a distraction away from his dismal policies that have caused food shortages, high unemployment, a fraudulent electoral process, and an economic crisis," she said.
"The people of Venezuela know that the fault for this hardship is not due to any outside element, but falls squarely on the shoulders of Maduro and his corrupt regime. It's heartbreaking that President Obama has looked the other way on the human rights abuses in Venezuela and has not added the many names that must be added to the list of violators so that they are denied entry to the U.S. and their assets are frozen."