As Venezuela starves, Maduro tells army to prepare for US ‘threats’

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, fresh off calling on the inhabitants of his starving nation to eat rabbits that had been kept as pets, is now asking his army to make sure it has “rifles, missiles and well-oiled tanks at the ready” amid a war of words with the United States.

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Maduro made the declaration Monday during a military exercise in the city of Maracay, two days after the Trump administration signed new restrictions imposing bans on the entry of some Venezuelan government officials and their families into the U.S.

“We have been shamelessly threatened by the most criminal empire that ever existed and we have the obligation to prepare ourselves to guarantee peace,” Maduro said, according to AFP.

The Venezuelan president, wearing military garb, also said he wanted prosperity for his country, but added “we need to have rifles, missiles and well-oiled tanks at the ready…to defend every inch of the territory if needs be.”

Nearly two weeks ago Maduro encouraged people to start eating rabbits for protein as Venezuela faces a severe food shortage. After being given the rabbits, many people who took part in a pilot project for the rabbit-eating initiative placed bow ties on the bunnies, kept them as pets and cuddled with them in bed.

Low supplies of food and medicine are leaving millions of people starving and desperate for medical treatment. A study published earlier this year reported that roughly 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds in the last year due to food shortages, Fox News reported.

The ongoing economic crisis has been spurred by the socialist policies of Maduro and his predecessor, the late former President Hugo Chavez.

The U.S. government in August hit Maduro and 20 other top officials with financial sanctions, and also banned American finance companies from lending money to Venezuela’s government and its state-run oil company, AFP reported.

Trump said in August he wouldn’t rule out a “military option” to resolve Venezuela’s political struggles.

Courtesy, Fox News

Maduro: Venezuela can meet Trump talk with military might

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

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.”

Watch video01:03

Hunger crisis hits Venezuela

‘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.

Watch video02:56

Military coup in Venezuela? DW Correspondent Oscar Schlenker from Caracas

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Venezuela says it has put down uprising at army base

At least two “terrorists” were killed during an attack on a Venezuelan army base, President Nicolas Maduro said. The apparent uprising came after a former National Guard captain demanded the creation of a new government.

A man argues with members of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Guards outside the Paramacay military base in Valencia

Venezuela’s military says it put down a rebellion at a key army base in Valencia on Sunday, less than two days after the government appeared to ensure its indefinite rule by forming a legislative body loyal to President Nicolas Maduro.

Socialist Party deputy Diosdado Cabello announced the uprising had been put down shortly after a video was released that showed a group of military men announcing the rebellion.

Several of the assailants were arrested, officials said, after reports of shots being fired near the base in the city’s Paramacay Fort, used by the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB in Spanish).

Watch video01:45

Venezuela spirals toward dictatorship

“Our FANB successfully repelled a paramilitary criminal terrorist attack, the seven captured are giving information!” Rear Admiral Remigio Ceballos, head of the military’s strategic operational command, said on Twitter.

In a video released earlier on Sunday, a man who identified himself as Juan Carlos Caguaripano, a former National Guard captain, said: “We demand the immediate formation of a transition government.” He was flanked by about a dozen men in military uniforms.

“This is not a coup d’etat,” he said. “This is a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order. But more than that, it is to save the country from total destruction.”

A witness near the military base, in the town of Naguanagua, reported hearing gunshots before dawn, but Cabello maintained that the situation had been brought under control. Officials said the rebels, whom they described as “terrorists,” were trying to steal weapons and that seven people were detained after the attack on the base.

Venezuela Proteste in Valencia (Getty Images/AFP/R. Schemidt)Anti-government protesters were also active in Valencia on Sunday

Criticism of Maduro grows

So far the rest of the country appears to be remaining calm, if tense.

Watch video02:02

Venezuela’s government dismisses one of its most powerful critics: Oscar Schlenker from Caracas

Critics at home and abroad have condemned the so-called constituent assembly that formed on Friday and is intended to replace the popularly elected National Assembly, which opposes Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The constituent assembly quickly moved to dismiss the state prosecutor, Luisa Ortega,  a former ally of Maduro’s who has recently become his staunchest critic.

Ortega refused to recognize the assembly’s move and vowed to resist the Maduro regime “with my last breath” against what she considers the government’s unconstitutional overreach.

The armed forces are seen as the key power broker in Venezuela, and opposition leaders have repeatedly called on the military to break ranks with Maduro.

But the military leadership continues to publicly profess loyalty to the president and his government. Critics say lucrative government contracts, corruption and contraband mean many military officials want Maduro to stay in power. They also fear persecution should the opposition take over.

The country has been in a years-long deepening economic crisis, which has fed the political tensions in the oil-rich state. Periodic demonstrations have grown into daily protests in recent months. Since April, more than 120 people have been killed in the daily clashes as rock-throwing protesters have been met by state security forces firing rubber bullets and water cannon.

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Venezuelan chief prosecutor’s office blocked by security forces

Venezuelan security forces have blocked off the offices of the chief prosecutor, one of President Nicolas Maduro’s most vocal critics. She is expected to be removed by a newly installed all-powerful assembly.

Watch video01:32

Venezuela opens disputed constituent assembly

Chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz on Saturday condemned what she called a military “siege,” as she posted photos to Twitter showing dozens of troops from the Venezuelan military outside her Caracas headquarters.

“I denounce this arbitrary act before the national and international community,” she wrote.

The move comes as newly elected members of the all-powerful constituent assembly pledged to move swiftly against President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents.

“Don’t think we’re going to wait weeks, months or years,” former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said on Friday after she was voted unanimously by all 545 delegates to lead the assembly. “Tomorrow we start to act. The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you.”

Read more: What is Venezuela’s constituent assembly?

Some of the assembly’s delegates have already called directly for Ortega’s removal.

Protesters make petrol bombs as the first sitting of the constituent assembly gets underwayAnti-Maduro protesters make petrol bombs as the first sitting of the constituent assembly gets underway in Caracas

Assembly gets to work

The body, which was meeting for the second time on Saturday, is tasked with rewriting the country’s constitution. President Maduro has said the assembly will also strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution.

The opposition has refused to recognize the new body, which includes Maduro’s wife and son among its more than 500 members and is composed largely of presidential loyalists. Government opponents see the asembly as a move by Maduro to destroy democracy.

Delegates of the national constituent assmebly meet in CaracasNational constituent assembly members, including the body’s President Delcy Rodriguez (in red), meet in Caracas

Prosecutor Ortega had announced earlier in the week that she would open an investigation into alleged irregularities into Sunday’s controversial election to form the assembly. She also submitted a court claim seeking to suspend the body.

Despite opposition protests, the assembly’s first session went ahead on Friday.

Demonstrations have continued for more than four months, and the opposition’s call to renew street protests raised fears that the death toll could risebeyond the 125 individuals who have already died.

Maduro supporters with hands raised outside the legislative palace (Reuters/U. Marcelino)Maduro supporters were also present outside the legislative palace as the meeting began on Friday

International rejection

Plans to install the new assembly provoked an international outcry, with the United States, the European Union and major Latin American countries all saying they would not recognize it. The Vatican has also urged Maduro not to go ahead with the assembly, calling on the government “to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the existing constitution.”

The constituent assembly has unlimited powers to dissolve the country’s legislature, the National Assembly, and amend laws, in addition to its task of rewriting the 1999 constitution brought in under late President Hugo Chavez. Maduro says the new constitution will end Venezuela’s political and economic crisis, though he gave no details on how these ends would be attained.

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Venezuela’s top prosecutor opens probe into electoral fraud

The Venezuelan attorney general has described the damning allegations of vote manipulation as a “scandalous act.” The company charged with tallying the result said the number of votes cast had been altered by a million.

A woman holds her infant as she casts her vote in front of a mural of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s attorney general and a fierce critic of President Nicolas Maduro, vowed to investigate claims that the government manipulated Sunday’s controversial election turnout.

“I have appointed two prosecutors to investigate the four directors of the National Electoral Council for this very scandalous act,” Ortega told broadcaster CNN.

Read more: What is Venezuela’s constituent assembly?

Her remarks came just hours after Smartmatic, a British firm tasked with providing Venezuela with the voting technology for Sunday’s ballot, alleged that the turnout numbers they recorded did not correspond with the numbers stated by the National Electoral Council.

Watch video00:40

Controversial vote triggers violence in Venezuela

‘Manipulation of figures’

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said on Sunday that around 8 million people had come out and voted. That figure, however, was dismissed by many has unrealistically high, as there were no reports of long lines or crowds at polling stations.

On Wednesday, Smartmatic maintained that Electoral Council had artificially inflated the number of voters by up to one million people. High turnout was always going to determine the legitimacy of the Venezuelan government’s proposed constitutional changes, and ultimately the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency.

“This announcement is very serious because [Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica] said that there was manipulation of figures,” Ortega said, adding that it represented “one more element of the fraudulent and unconstitutional process” in forming the Constituent Assembly.

‘The gringos and the Brits’

The international community has condemned the controversial vote, which it says has consolidated the ruling party’s powers by allowing select allies of the president to rewrite the country’s constitution.

Late on Wednesday, Maduro said he would postpone the first meeting of the newly formed constitutional assembly from Thursday to Friday.

“That stupid guy, the president of Smartmatic, pressured to the neck by the gringos and the Brits, said there 7.5 million,” Maduro said commenting on the company’s claims that the vote had been tampered with. “I think there were 10 million Venezuelans who went out.”

Critics fear that the new constitution will give Maduro’s government virtually unlimited powers. Proponents, however, claim it to be a necessary measure to end the opposition’s political roadblocks and to get the country’s depressed economy back on track.

Watch video04:28

Venezuela: Antonietta Ledezma talks to DW

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US Treasury sanctions Venezuelan president Maduro

US Treasury sanctions Venezuelan president Maduro
The US Treasury Department has announced that it is sanctioning Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, describing the Constituent Assembly elections held in the country on Sunday as “illegitimate.”

In an update on Monday, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said it had added Maduro to its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. This means that any US-based assets of his have been frozen, and American citizens are forbidden from conducting any business with him.

The following individual has been added to OFAC’s SDN List: MADURO MOROS, Nicolas… President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” the update reads.

Maduro ‘ready for national dialogue’ as vote on ’s new assembly gripped by violence https://on.rt.com/8j5q 

According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the White House considers the elections held in Venezuela to be illegitimate and holds Maduro responsible.

Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.

Maduro promised to continue to protect his country, despite the newly announced sanctions. In a televised address to the nation, the president emphasized that he does not “take orders from the empire,”telling his American counterpart, “Keep up your sanctions, Donald Trump!”

“I am proud of the alleged sanctions… because I do not wag my tail like a lying dog,” Maduro said Monday after the election commission announced Sunday’s voter’s turnout. “I am punished for defending the natural resources of Venezuelan lands.”

“I am the independent president of a free nation,” he said, according to Globovision. “You’re with Trump or Venezuela, you’re with Trump or with democracy, you’re with Trump or the free world.”

Election meddling: US sanctions 13 Venezuela officials, warns against electing Constituent Assembly

Venezuela held National Constituent Assembly elections Sunday following months of street protests and clashes in which more than 100 people have died. Despite the violence and opposition boycott, over 8 million people participated in the democratic process by casting their votes for the 545 candidates who will be empowered to draft a new constitution.

Ahead of the vote, the US Treasury had already slapped sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials for allegedly “undermining democracy”with the initiative.

The assembly will also have a mandate to deny the country’s lawmakers parliamentary immunity. Critics say the new government body will give the ruling Socialist Party unprecedented powers, despite president Nicolas Maduro’s pledge that the Assembly will become “place for dialogue.”

Maduro claimed victory in Sunday’s vote, but a number of countries, including the UK, the US and Argentina refused to recognize the election, the final results of which are yet to be announced.

Russia, however, praised the vote as laying the basis for a peaceful resolution of the contradictions plaguing Venezuelan society.

“We regret to note that opposition forces did not respond to the call to take part in the vote, but instead tried to hamper the elections, provoking clashes that have resulted in loss of life. We urge the opposing parties to stop the pointless violent confrontation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Throughout the course of the unrest, which boiled over at the end of March after the Supreme Court ruled to take over the duties of the National Assembly, Venezuelan officials have blamed foreign powers for fueling the violence. Politicians also claimed that the scale of the protests is largely exaggerated in the media.

Caracas turning into scenes from ‘Mad Max’ in latest wave of violent anti-govt clashes in Venezuela

A week before the elections, Maduro accused the US of plotting “regime change” in Caracas after CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a comment about discussing “transition” in Venezuela with regional partners.

Courtesy: RT

Several dead as Venezuelan opposition snubs ‘vote for the revolution’

Several people were killed as the opposition boycotted an election that could place near-total power in the hands President Nicolas Maduro. The US was set to announce tough new sanctions against the oil-rich country.

Watch video01:43

Violence mars Venezuela vote

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hailed the results of Sunday’s vote for a controversial constitutional assembly that will cement his power, even as international criticism poured in and the opposition boycotted the polls.

Electoral authorities said 8 million voters, or about 41 percent of those eligible, came out to the polls to elect a 545-member citizens’ assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution and empowered to dissolve the opposition-controlled Congress.

Maduro hailed the turnout as “the biggest vote that the Bolivarian Revolution has seen in the past 18 years,” in a statement overshadowed by an opposition boycott and raging street violence that left 10 people dead.

Watch video02:35

Violence in Venezuela likely to continue? Oscar Schlenker from Caracas

Many polling stations in the capital were reportedly empty, even ones that had been teeming in previous elections.

The opposition, emboldened by an unofficial referendum against Maduro last week, claimed only 2 to 3 million people voted.

If true, the low numbers would cast a shadow of illegitimacy over the constituent assembly that according to pre-election opinion polls had only 20 percent support.

Read: What are Venezuela’s proposed constitutional changes

One exit poll based on surveys from 110 voting centers estimated 3.6 million people voted, or about 18.5 percent of registered voters.

“The results thus suggest that the government maintains an important loyal core of supporters that it can mobilize in both electoral and non-electoral scenarios,” US investment bank Torino Capital and a Venezuela public opinion company concluded in their report.

All those elected to the assembly were from Maduro’s Socialist Party.

There were widespread reports Maduro and his loyalists coerced the country’s 2.8 million state workers into voting. Two dozen sources told Reuters they were being threatened with dismissal and were being blasted with text messages and phone calls asking them to vote and report back after doing so.

Police fire on protesters in Caracas, Venezuela (Reuters/M. Bello)

10 dead in clashes, more protests called 

The vote coincided with one of the bloodiest days since protests began nearly four months ago, with protesters wearing hoods and masks erecting street barricades and clashing with riot police. The protests occurred despite a government ban and prison sentences as high as 10 years for protesters.

Authorities said 10 people died in the various protests and the opposition said the true death toll was 15.

Among those killed was candidate Jose Felix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer who prosecutors said was shot by multiple assailants who broke into his home. A regional secretary for the opposition youth party Democratic Action, Ricardo Campos, was also shot dead during a protest against the election in the northeastern town of Cumana, prosecutors said on Sunday.

Read: Venezuela: Democracy under fire

Prosecutors also said a Venezuelan soldier was shot dead at a protest in the western state of Tachira, and two teenagers were killed at different protests in the same region.

In Caracas, a bomb exploded in front of a line of police officers of motorcycles, injuring seven of them.

Police next to burning motorbikes in Caracas (picture alliance/dpa/M. Quintero)In what could be a sign of increasingly violent tactics, a makeshift bomb injured several police officers

More than four months of opposition-led protests against Maduro have left nearly 120 people dead, exposing deep rifts in the oil-rich country suffering from food and medicine shortages.

The opposition planned further protests on Monday, piling pressure on Maduro after nationwide strikes and protests leading up to Sunday’s vote.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles also called for protests on the day that the new assembly takes office, which Maduro said would happen this week.

US to announce sanctions

The United States on Monday geared up to announce a new round of “actions” against Venezuela, including potentially implementing a devastating halt of dollar payments for the country’s oil or a total ban on oil imports to the United States. Such punishment would send Venezuela’s already nosediving economy careening into further turmoil.

Venezuela elections (Reuters/U. Marcelino)

“We will continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela, including those who participate in the National Constituent Assembly as a result of today’s flawed election,” the State Department said in a statement, calling the vote a step toward authoritarian rule.

Latin American nations Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Panama all said they would not recognize the vote. Only Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia supported Maduro.

In Brussels, the European Union condemned “the excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces.”

“Venezuela has democratically elected and legitimate institutions whose role is to work together and to find a negotiated solution to the current crisis. A Constituent Assembly, elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances cannot be part of the solution,” the EU’s foreign policy body said in a statement.

It was unclear if the EU would follow the United States in imposing sanctions. 

Nicolas Maduro says the new constitution will end the country’s debilitating political and economic crises.

The opposition says the constituent assembly is ursurping Congress’ power and will push through changes to cement a Maduro dictatorship. Congress has already been severely weakened by the Maduro-loyalist electoral commission and Supreme Court.

Watch video01:31

As Maduro celebrates win, Venezuela’s economy near collapse

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