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Maduro calls for unity in Venezuela's military

August 25, 2017

President Nicolas Maduro has urged Venezuela's military to be ready for a possible US incursion. The US has issued new sanctions "carefully calibrated to deny the Maduro dictatorship" access to critical funds.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Image: Picture alliance/dpa/F. Batista/Prensa Miraflores

On Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his US counterpart, Donald Trump, was contemplating a "classic" occupation of Venezuela. Addressing generals, Maduro said he expected the continued backing of the military, from which he has maintained surprisingly consistent support despite months of protests against his government - and more than 130 demonstrator deaths.

"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," the 54-year-old former bus driver and foreign minister told generals.

Read more: 5 things to know about oil-rich, cash-poor Venezuela

Trump and his supporters "treat us as a dictatorship," Maduro said, urging soldiers to "be prepared to fight fiercely."

"You are with Trump and the imperialists, or you are with the National Bolivaran Armed Forces and the homeland."

Sweeping sanctions

Earlier in August, Trump said the US had "many options for Venezuela - and by the way I'm not going to rule out a military option." However, his own vice president, Mike Pence, attempted to soften that message on a visit to Latin America shortly after, saying the United States could, for example, restore democracy to Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure.

Trump on Friday signed an executive order enacting sweeping financial sanctions against the Maduro government and the state-run oil giant PDVSA.

Read more: What is going on in Venezuela?

The measures "are carefully calibrated to deny the Maduro dictatorship a critical source of financing to maintain its illegitimate rule, protect the United States financial system from complicity in Venezuela's corruption and in the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people and allow for humanitarian assistance," said a statement from the White House.

Maduro has grown increasingly sensitive to criticism of his rule. Earlier this month, his foreign minister sent a letter to Germany's embassy in Caracas after Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman accused the regime of "arbitrary arrests and excessive violence."

'In private hands'

Maduro said he would like to "incorporate" Venezuela's Digitel and Spain's Movistar - telecommunications companies "still in private hands" - into the state's cyberdefense strategy. "You know that the first thing that is affected in an armed conflict is communications," he told the military leadership on Thursday.

Movistar Venezuela services 6 million of the country's approximately 15 million smartphones and has more than 10 million customers - roughly a third of the population. According to its own figures, the company administers over 60 percent of Venezuela's online traffic.

Maduro also moved his oil minister, Nelson Martinez, over to run the state petrol giant PDVSA - and appointed the company's boss, Eulogio Del Pino, to lead the ministry. "We are in a moment of flexibility to face the economic war," Maduro said. A fall in world crude prices has left Venezuela, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, short of dollars for vital imports such as basic pharmaceuticals.

ls,mkg/msh (EFE, Reuters, AFP, dpa)