By Agence France-Presse
Venezuela kicks off two days of military drills on Saturday in response to US President Donald Trump’s threat of military action and newly announced sanctions on the crisis-stricken nation.
Trump warned on August 11 that the United States was mulling a range of options against Venezuela, “including a possible military option if necessary.”
His Vice President Mike Pence later played down the threat, insisting that Washington was prioritizing a diplomatic solution and economic sanctions.
National security advisor HR McMaster followed suit, saying “no military actions are anticipated in the near future.”
But tension only surged again when the White House made good on the sanctions threat on Friday, unveiling its first-ever sanctions to target Venezuela as a whole, rather than just Maduro and his inner circle.
The measures ban trade in new bonds issued by the Venezuelan government or its cash-cow oil company, PDVSA.
That could choke off access to New York debt markets and substantially raise the likelihood of Venezuela being forced into default.
Venezuela called the measures the “worst aggression” yet.
“We will protect our people and the people of the republic, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, are going to stand up,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.
Trump’s threat of military force has bolstered Maduro’s oft-repeated claim that Washington is plotting to topple him and wants to grab control of Venezuela’s oil — the largest proven reserves in the world.
Maduro is under international pressure over his handling of an economic and political crisis.
The socialist president is resisting opposition calls for early elections to replace him.
The center right-led opposition and international powers including the US say he is turning Venezuela into a dictatorship.
Maduro’s opponents accuse military police and pro-Maduro militia of beating and killing anti-government protesters.
Protest clashes have left 125 people dead so far this year, according to prosecutors.
Maduro says the violence and the economic crisis are a US-backed conspiracy.