The under-pressure leader of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro told the president of Colombia to "kneel down before your father, I am your father" in a bizarre rant channelling Darth Vader to his supporters during a television show aired on the country's state TV.

Referring to Gran Colombia, a period in the 19th century when Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador were united as a single republic, Maduro said that the Venezuelans "are the fathers of Colombia, our grandparents founded Colombia".

"President Santos has to ask for my blessing, compadre, because we are his fathers," Maduro said, as his audience laughed. "Santos, ask for a blessing, compadre. Kneel down before your father. I am your father, Santos, am I not? I am your father. God bless you, Santos. Leave your malice against Venezuela [behind]. Behave, compadre, because you are very bad in Colombia."

In the most famous scene of all the Star Wars films, Imperial villain Darth Vader reveals himself to be the father of the rebel protagonist, Luke Skywalker.

Venezuela is in the grip of a crisis as its socialist economy, which is heavily reliant on oil production, collapses with the recent decline in the oil price.

Many Venezuelans have turned out on the streets to protest against Maduro's toughening rule amid severe shortages in the country, such as of food, electricity, and medical supplies.

Maduro's critics accuse him of being a demagogue who is trying to consolidate his power by rewriting the constitution and locking up his opponents. The Venezuelan Catholic church said he has turned the country into "a dictatorship".

Maduro and the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, have clashed over a number of issues.

Venezuela has repeatedly shut its border with Colombia. At the end of 2016, Maduro closed the border for 72 hours, accusing "mafia" of smuggling currency across the border as it struggled to keep control of its exchange rate.

And in 2015, Maduro expelled hundreds of Colombians from Venezuela, accusing them of being smugglers and members of criminal gangs. Santos has attacked the Venezuelan government for its "failed" socialist system and said Venezuelans were fleeing the chaos to Colombia.

But Maduro has often lashed back by pointing to Colombia's own problems, such as the violent drug gangs and poverty, and accused Santos in meddling in Venezuelan affairs.

Juan Santos Nicolas Maduro
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) and Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos shake hands during their meeting at Macagua Hydroelectric compound in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, 11 August, 2016 Reuters