Caracas, May 23rd 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - More than half a million soldiers and civilian militia members took to the streets of Venezuela over the weekend to defend their national sovereignty amidst rumours of international intervention and an unconventional coup.
Entitled Full Independence II 2016, the drills saw troops, military boats and planes deployed to seven coastal states in Venezuela on Friday and Saturday after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on the military to rally around the defence of the country’s Constitution in the face of foreign aggression.
The head of state said that “the decision to combat and defend this land at the cost of our own lives” should send a “very clear message to the empires of the world”.
“The people of Venezuela is the only owner of this land, never again will it be somebody’s slave or colony,” he added.
During the exercises, Venezuelan Defence Minister, Padrino Lopez, also called on Venezuelans to sign up to the militia set up by former President Hugo Chavez in 2007 as a civilian-led armed body parallel to the army.
According to comments made by General César Vega, there are currently 340,000 militia members operating throughout the country.
Last weekend’s military exercises take place amidst a tense atmosphere in Venezuela, where the political opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has vowed to remove Maduro before 2017 through a constitutional recall referendum. The manoeuvre would mean cutting the president’s term short by over two years.
Despite MUD plans for a recall, however, earlier this month former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, infamous Venezuelan blogger Francisco del Toro, and former presidential candidate and MUD leader, Henrique Capriles Radonski, all came out in support of a coup against the Maduro government.
The comments have led to heavy speculation both inside Venezuela and abroad that forces in opposition to the government could seek an unconstitutional route to oust Maduro before the year is up.
Russian Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs Sergéi Ryabkov and even the Pope recently waded into the debate last week, warning against “soft” or constitutional coups in Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil and foreign destabilisation.
“We see a new intensification in the foreign policy of the United States in that area, even direct attempts to interfere in the domestic affairs of states in the region… Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela are just the most recent examples,” said Ryabkov from Moscow.
Meanwhile leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales also sent his support to the embattled Venezuelan head of state over the weekend, after arriving in Caracas from Havana.