Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday he will attend a summit of Western Hemisphere nations in April despite host Peru saying he is unwelcome.
"Are they are afraid of me? They don't want to see me in Lima? They're going to see me, come rain, thunder or lightning!" a defiant Maduro told a press conference in Caracas. The leftist Venezuelan president vowed to get to the summit venue in Lima "by air, land or sea!"
Peru's Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz hit back at Maduro's comments.
"A head of state cannot come to a country without an invitation, so he cannot step on Peruvian soil without an invitation," she told a press conference.
Describing Maduro's attitude as "aggressive" she said: "neither the Peruvian soil, nor the Peruvian sea, nor the Peruvian air can be invaded by a foreign force."
Peru had said on Tuesday that Maduro's "presence will no longer be welcome" after a decision to hold early presidential elections in his crisis-torn country without reaching an agreement with the opposition. Peru's statement followed hot on the heels of a meeting of the 14-nation Lima Group urging Venezuela to reconsider holding elections on April 22 on the grounds that conditions for a free and fair vote, as demanded by the opposition, did not currently exist.
Maduro told reporters that despite Lima's rejection he had received a letter from Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski the day after inviting him to the summit, scheduled for April 13-14. He also insisted the presidential vote, which analysts say he is certain to win, would go ahead as planned.
"In Venezuela, Venezuelans are in charge, not the Lima Group, not Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, not [Colombian president] Juan Manuel Santos," Maduro said.
He said some of the governments in the Lima Group were "the most unpopular governments on the planet," referring in particular to those of Colombia and Peru. "For me it is an honor that the oligarchy of the region does what it does against us," he said.
Venezuela won support earlier Thursday from key ally Cuba, which lashed out at Peru for disinviting Maduro, and strongly condemned the Lima Group for "unacceptable meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela."
Maduro is seeking re-election to a second six-year term. With the opposition coalition barred from fielding a candidate and several top Maduro critics banned, opponents of the deeply unpopular leader accuse him of rigging the April vote. Presidential elections were not due until December, but the Constituent Assembly, which is stacked with Maduro loyalists, moved the date forward. The country is suffering dire food and medicine shortages brought on by low oil prices and economic mismanagement. It is teetering on the brink of default and is increasingly isolated internationally.
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