Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday warned the armed forces against “fissures” in their ranks, ahead of war games seen as a show of strength after US President Donald Trump threatened military action.
“We must be clear, especially for the youth in the military, that we must close ranks within the homeland — that this is no time for any fissures and that those with doubts should leave the armed forces immediately,” Maduro said.
“You are with Trump and the imperialists, or you are with the Bolivarian national armed forces and the homeland,” he added. “Never before has Venezuela been threatened in such a way.”
Maduro launched the warning in a speech to his top military leadership, including General Vladimir Padrino, his defense minister, and General Remigio Ceballos, commander of operational strategy, two days before the drills begin Saturday.
Maduro has faced months of deadly mass protests by opponents who blame him for an economic crisis and are demanding elections to replace him. His main source of support is the military.
Venezuela’s opposition has repeatedly urged the military to abandon Maduro, so far to no avail.
Maduro urged the military to “be prepared to fight fiercely… in the face of an eventual” US invasion.
“They treat us as a dictatorship,” said the embattled president.
Since Trump’s threat, Vice President Mike Pence sought to soften the message, saying during a visit to Latin America that he was sure democracy could be restored in Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure.
The Trump administration is considering additional sanctions against Venezuela’s government, including a ban on trading the country’s debt, a US administration official with knowledge of discussions said on Wednesday.
“It is just one option that is being talked about,” the official told Reuters.
So far, Washington has applied economic sanctions directly targeting Maduro, who says the economic collapse that has dragged his country into crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.
The fall in world crude prices has left Venezuela — which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world — short of dollars for vital imports. The country is suffering from shortages of basic goods and medicines.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s government on Thursday ordered cable television providers to cut the signal of
two Colombian networks, a move that critics, including Colombia’s leader, called a crackdown on free speech by
The country’s telecommunications regulator called for RCN and Caracol Television to be taken off the air for broadcasting a message it said incited Maduro’s murder, the office of Venezuela’s presidency said in a statement.
“The measure is within the bounds of the law, given that those stations over several months attacked Venezuela and (its) institutionality,” the statement said, citing Andres Mendez, former head of telecom regulator Conatel.