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Venezuela holds military exercises as warning to US

January 15, 2017

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has overseen military exercises, claiming the country is under threat of invasion. The US has extended an executive order declaring a national emergency in the South American state.

Venezuelas Präsident Nicolas Maduro Militämanöver in Charallave
Image: Reuters/Miraflores Palace

The exercises have involved more than 76,000 troops and half a million civilians. They have been held across the oil-rich state on land, sea and in the air. On Saturday, the drills included urban defense and protection of coastal oil refineries.

The aim was to resist what the socialist government sees as a US-backed plot to overthrow it. State television showed images of soldiers camouflaged as bushes shouting "socialist fatherland," as their commanders held Russian-made military equipment.

Venezuelas Präsident Nicolas Maduro mit dem Verteidigungsminister Vladimir Padrino Lopez
Defense Minister Lopez with President MaduroImage: Reuters/Miraflores Palace

"We're ready to defend our land, inch by inch, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street," Maduro said during a drill in Miranda state.

Three opposition activists have been jailed over the last week and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is being investigated. He could be banned from holding public office as a result. The opposition has been trying to remove Maduro but their attempts to hold an early presidential vote have been blocked.

"From here we are alerting the American imperialists that we are a threat because we want peace, we're socialists, we're revolutionary and we're Chavistas," Diosdado Cabello told militants gathered at a military base in Caracas. "You, Obama, with your Nobel Peace Prize have taken war to every corner of the earth." Cabello is a politician, a member of the National Assembly of Venezuela and a former Speaker of the country's legislature. He is also an active member of the Venezuelan armed forces.

US 'National emergency'

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the executive order issued by the US White House on Friday was a confirmation of Obama's legacy of "hatred" toward Venezuela and constituted a "grave violation of international law."

The US administration had issued an executive order declaring a "national emergency" in Venezuela in March 2015. It was followed by sanctions on seven officials who had jailed anti-government protesters during a wave of unrest which led to the deaths of more than 40 people.

The US said the order was extended on Friday because there had been no improvement in the human rights situation in Venezuela, including press freedom and arbitrary arrests. Corruption was also getting worse, the US claimed.

Economic distress

Venezuela is undergoing a serious economic collapse with shortages of basic items in the shops and a collapse in the value of the national currency. The International Monetary Fund has estimated the economy contracted by 10 percent in 2016 and forecasts a further contraction of 4.5 percent in 2017.

Venezuela's oil production fell to its lowest in more than two decades in 2016 and sales of Venezuelan crude to the US dropped to a 25-year low, according to Thomson Reuters.

While there are no regular indications of the inflation rate, it is believed to be one of the highest in the world.

Maduro admitted last week that "2016 was the hardest, longest and most difficult year we have known."

jm/kl (AP, Reuters, EFE)