Maduro Militarizes His Rule

Venezuela took another big step towards the precipice over the weekend: After a tumultuous week that saw violent protests and looting checked by the army, President Nicolas Maduro made noises about militarizing his rule further:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced undefined “military exercises” for the embattled nation, just a day after pledging to prolong his government’s special emergency powers.

Speaking in Caracas’s Ibarra Square after a march Saturday by several hundred supporters, Maduro said his opponents are orchestrating foreign military intervention in Venezuela. Exercises by the army and militia groups would prepare “for any scenario,” Maduro said.

“The oligarchy’s plan is to disturb the peace so they can justify foreign intervention in Venezuela,” Maduro said in televised remarks at the rally. “I’m not an extremist for saying this, but they’re extremists for wanting to carry this out.”

These announcements were accompanied by some very pointed threats:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday ordered authorities to seize factories that have stopped production and jail their owners, a day after declaring a state of emergency to combat the country’s economic crisis.

“We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralyzed by the bourgeoisie,” he told a rally in Caracas.

“Anyone who wants to halt (production) to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV (Venezuelan General Penitentiary),” he said.

Venezuela’s opposition leaders, who make up a majority in the country’s parliament, and have sworn to have Maduro recalled from office, declared Maduro’s latest moves illegal. What they will be able to do about it is far from clear. Much ultimately will depend on the army, which while stocked with Chavista loyalists, can’t help but notice that the country is crumbling under their leader’s watch. The army is as riddled by corruption as any other sector of this deeply compromised country—it is currently languishing at number 158 out of 168 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2015—and if it feels like Maduro is unable to keep things together, it might be tempted to shove him aside.

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