Wed | Apr 8, 2020

VENEZUELA | Troops stage drills as they denounce US

Published:Monday | February 17, 2020 | 12:10 AM
A military drill at La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.
A military drill at La Carlota airbase in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.

CARACAS (AP):

Venezuela’s armed forces and civilian militias took the streets in cities, beaches and border regions on Saturday for drills ordered by President Nicolás Maduro, amid tensions between Washington and Caracas.

Despite the manoeuvres, there are no indications that the US plans any military intervention in Venezuela. Washington has focused on political and diplomatic pressure in its efforts to oust Maduro, only saying last year that it had not ruled out a military option.

Maduro called for the exercises as he comes under pressure from the US and dozens of other nations backing a year-long campaign by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to force the leader from power.

Residents in a pro-Maduro slum in Caracas participated in the exercises. They included a growing number of civilian militia members recruited by a cash-starved government that is struggling to keep Venezuela’s shattered economy afloat.

“I answered the call to help prepare for our defense because my country, my homeland, is under threat from the US empire,” said militia member Pablo Antonio Reyes, a 63-year-old electronics technician.

Militiamen and government supporters dressed in red shirts held combat drills on streets blocked off by city buses. They evacuated residents from buildings as tyres burned on rooftops to simulate fires from attacks.

“The purpose of this exercise is to keep us prepared,” said militia member Carmen Ferrer, 50.

Maduro said that the two-day manoeuvres were aimed at fending off “terrorist aggression” by Washington and its allies in the region, including neighbouring Colombia.

The Venezuelan military, which has received Russian support, deployed missile launchers, anti-aircraft batteries and radars in the streets. The government seeks to boost militia ranks, filled out by the old and young, housewives and students.

Guaidó, who launched a campaign a year ago to end two decades of socialist rule, on Saturday call on the armed forces to abandon Maduro’s failed leadership and help him reconstruct a new Venezuela. His previous appeals to the military to change sides have fallen short.