After barely managing to scrape together the nearly $200 million needed to make a bond payment earlier this month (the country made the payment a week late), Embattled Venezeulan President Nicolas Maduro is refocusing his attention on the US, warning military leaders Tuesday to begin preparing for war with the US. Maduro's call to arms comes after the US has repeatedly tightened sanctions against Maduro's regime and the country's state-run oil company; earlier this week, the Trump administration blocked Venezeulan officials from entering the US as part of the White House's new “targeted” travel ban. Trump has also repeatedly threatened a military intervention if Maduro doesn't leave voluntarily.
Maduro is probably still brooding over Trump’s call for the world community to help restore “democracy and political freedoms” to Venezeula by ousting Maduro (to which Maduro reportedly responded in typical leftist fashion by comparing Trump to Hitler). Trump made those remarks last week during his first address to the UN General Assembly. Earlier this year, Trump said he wouldn't rule out a military option for dealing with Venezuela, adding that the US has an obligation to take of the country because it's "our neighbor."
Maduro said Trump’s threats were the reason for him ordering the military to be on alert.
"We have been shamelessly threatened by the most criminal empire that ever existed and we have the obligation to prepare ourselves to guarantee peace," said Maduro, who wore a green uniform and a military hat as he spoke with his army top brass during a military exercise involving tanks and missiles. "We need to have rifles, missiles and well-oiled tanks at the ready....to defend every inch of the territory if needs be," he added.
Over the summer, the US announced sanctions to prevent PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owed oil company, from issuing new debt (sanctions that conveniently avoided existing bonds held by Goldman Sachs), while also preventing Citgo, the US subsidiary of PDVSA, from repatriating dividends. The US has also passed sanctions against many top Venezuelan officials. Tensions between Maduro and Trump started escalating shortly after Trump’s inauguration, when the US blacklisted Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami for drug trafficking.
Maduro referenced the sanctions during his speech at the military base. As he spoke, Russian military planes flew in the sky as part of the training exercise, according to Newsweek.
"The future of humanity cannot be the world of illegal sanctions, of economic persecution," Maduro said.
Of course, Maduro doesn't have the manpower to stand up to the US’s much-larger military. The embattled leader has managed to cling to power in Venezuela despite mounting political and economic crises that have inspired months of deadly anti-government demonstrations in the streets of the capital, Caracas and many other cities around the country.
As Newsweek reports, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino has backed Maduro through the unrest, but Reuters reported back in August that there may be growing support for a military-backed coup against Maduro, whose approval rating remains at all-time lows, even as he has succeeded in consolidating power and marginalizing his opposition.
The country has managed to avoid financial calamity with the help of Russia and China. However, Newsweek reports that China is beginning to limit its exposure to Venezuela amid the mounting political unrest.