Caracas: Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro ordered the army to conduct a round of military drills later this month in response to US President Donald Trump’s threat of military action in the crisis-stricken nation.
Maduro’s embattled government — facing a deepening economic emergency and swelling street protests — has seized on Trump’s apparent threat, which has been roundly condemned even by Latin American states opposed to the socialist president.
Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino called Trump’s comments “crazy,” saying it showed America had “dropped its mask” in terms of wanting to attack his country.
Maduro told a crowd of supporters in Caracas on Monday that he had organised a round of military drills for August 26-27 in response.
“I have given the order to the armed forces’ joint chiefs of staff to start preparations for a national civil-military exercise for the integrated armed defence of the Venezuelan nation,” he said.
Trump said on Friday that the US was mulling a range of options against Venezuela, “including a possible military option if necessary.”
His words have bolstered Caracas’s oft-repeated claim that Washington has designs to grab control of its proven oil reserves, the largest in the world. The Pentagon said it had received no orders from Trump to ready any sort of military action against Venezuela.
Supporters of Maduro, who has been in power since the death of the revolutionary socialist Hugo Chavez in 2013, packed the streets of Caracas on Monday in a show of support for the beleaguered leader. Maduro vowed to defend his country “with tanks, planes and missiles.”
Venezuela, an ally to Cuba and Russia, reportedly bought Russian anti-aircraft defences and tanks years ago under Chavez.
Opponents of Maduro accuse him of seeking to consolidate power by packing a controversial new assembly with his allies as inflation spirals out of control and food shortages worsen.
The body has joined with the loyal supreme court to quash dissent and arrest opposition politicians.
Former Venezuelan mayor and prominent opposition figure Ramon Muchacho said from exile in the United States that perhaps a US invasion was “inevitable.”
“The United States thinks Venezuela is a danger,” due to its ties to Iran, Russia and others, he said on CNN. — AFP