Maduro tells forces to be ‘ready’ in case of US attack - GulfToday

Maduro tells forces to be ‘ready’ in case of US attack


Opponents of Nicolas Maduro demonstrate at El Paraiso neighbourhood in Caracas on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on the armed forces to be “ready” in the event of a US military offensive against the South American country, in a speech to troops on Saturday.

Maduro called on the military “to be ready to defend the homeland with weapons in your hands if one day the US empire dares to touch this territory, this sacred earth.”

His speech at a military base in the northwest, where he appeared alongside Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, came as opposition leader Juan Guaido rallied his supporters in a new day of protests to press the armed forces to support his bid to dislodge Maduro.

Earlier this week, Guaido tried to incite a military insurrection but it quickly fizzled out as a group of 25 rebel soldiers sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Caracas.

Maduro had responded to that by insisting the military high command had reasserted its loyalty to him.

“I told the generals and admirals yesterday: loyalty, I want an active loyalty... I trust you, but keep your eyes open, a handful of traitors cannot tarnish the honour, the unity, the cohesion and the image of the armed forces,” the president said in his speech broadcast on public radio and television.

The socialist leader accused Guaido − recognised by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president − of trying to launch a “coup d’etat.” Despite Guaido’s best efforts, the military has remained loyal to Maduro.

His appeal came during a week in which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned Caracas that “military action is possible.”

Despite repeatedly alluding to such an intervention, Washington has so far limited its actions to ramping up sanctions against key figures in the Maduro regime, as well as state oil company PDVSA.

Guaido, meanwhile, was to make a fresh bid on Saturday to rally Venezuela’s armed forces behind him with protests at military bases in the crisis-hit country. The protest call by Guaido comes just days after he urged the military to rise up against Maduro.

“Peacefully, civically... we are going to deliver a simple document, a proclamation to the Armed Forces to listen to the Venezuelan call, that a rapid transition is possible to produce free elections,” Guaido told a press conference in Caracas.

A small group of military personnel heeded Guaido’s call to rise up on Tuesday, but the effort petered out, triggering two days of protests against the government in which four people were killed and several hundred injured.

Venezuela’s military leadership has since reiterated its support for the government, and Maduro is standing his ground.

The country’s attorney general Tarek William Saab said Friday that 18 arrest warrants had been issued for “civilian and military conspirators” following the failed uprising, with lieutenant colonels among the uniformed personnel being sought.

Tensions in Venezuela have soared since Guaido, the 35-year-old head of the National Assembly, invoked the constitution to declare himself acting president on Jan.23, claiming Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate.

The standoff has drawn in major world powers, with the US throwing its support behind Guaido and Russia and China backing Maduro.

The United States has imposed tough sanctions and Trump has refused to take the threat of military action off the table, in an intensifying campaign to drive Maduro out.

But President Donald Trump adopted a strikingly conciliatory tone after a more than hour-long conversation with Vladimir Putin on the Venezuela crisis, describing the Friday talks with his Russian counterpart as “very positive.”

“He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump said of Putin.

“And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving.”

Venezuela has suffered five years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities as well as failing public services, including water, electricity and transport.

Trump’s tone came in stark contrast to that of his top advisors, in particular Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who charged this week that Maduro had been poised to flee to Cuba, but was talked out of it by the Russians.


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