Venezue­lan army and mili­tias hold ex­er­cises af­ter US threat

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela held na­tion­wide armed forces ex­er­cises yes­ter­day, call­ing on civil­ians to join re­serve units to de­fend against a pos­si­ble at­tack af­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump warned of a “mil­i­tary op­tion” for the cri­sis-hit coun­try.

Trump made the threat of mil­i­tary ac­tion against Venezuela two weeks ago and on Fri­day he signed an or­der pro­hibit­ing deal­ings in new debt from the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment or its oil com­pany, a move to hob­ble fi­nanc­ing that Trump says is fu­el­ing Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s “dic­ta­tor­ship.”

“Against the bel­liger­ent threats of the United States, all Venezue­lans be­tween the ages of 18 and 60 are re­quired to con­trib­ute to the in­te­gral de­fence of the na­tion,” said an an­nounce­ment broad­cast on state tele­vi­sion.

The gov­ern­ment said it ex­pected 700,000 civil­ian mili­tia mem­bers and 200,000 sol­diers, sailors and air­men to par­tic­i­pate.

State TV images showed Venezue­lans young and old en­ter­ing mil­i­tary re­serve reg­is­tra­tion cen­tres. But there was no ev­i­dence of reg­is­tra­tion be­yond the most ar­dent sup­port­ers of Maduro’s So­cial­ist Party.

Live broad­casts were aired of cam­ou­flaged sharp-shoot­ers at tar­get prac­tice while mil­i­tary com­man­ders gave fiery speeches at “anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist” ral­lies. Air force, in­fantry and naval ex­er­cises were ex­pected later yes­ter­day and to­day.

Diplo­matic ten­sions in­creased last month when a leg­isla­tive su­per­body called the con­stituent assem­bly was elected at Maduro’s be­hest. It has the power to leg­is­late, by­pass­ing the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress.

Maduro says the new assem­bly is Venezuela’s only hope of restor­ing peace af­ter months of deadly anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

Gov­ern­ments around the world de­nounced the elec­tion of the 545-mem­ber super-assem­bly as a far­ci­cal power grab by Maduro.

Lead­ers of the frac­tious op­po­si­tion coalition boy­cotted the July 30 elec­tion of the assem­bly. They called in­stead for an early pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which Maduro would likely lose as his pop­u­lar­ity sinks along with an econ­omy blighted by triple-digit in­fla­tion and acute short­ages of food and medicine.

Trump’s threat of mil­i­tary ac­tion played into Maduro’s hands by sup­port­ing his oft-re­peated as­ser­tion that the US “em­pire” has been wag­ing eco­nomic war on Venezuela and wants to in­vade the coun­try to steal its vast oil re­serves.

The idea had been laughed off as ab­surd by op­po­si­tion and US of­fi­cials be­fore Aug 11, when Trump said that “a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, a mil­i­tary op­tion is cer­tainly some­thing we could pur­sue” as a way of end­ing Venezuela’s cri­sis.

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