In an unusual morning appearance, Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro Thursday asked his military for “loyalty” and warned them that the United States was stoking discontent to create division in the ranks and spark a civil war.
Addressing several thousand troops in Caracas alongside Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, Maduro said the Trump administration was playing with fire by trying to divide the armed forces.
“How many dead would there be if a civil war started here because of the foolishness of coup mongers and traitors?” he said. “And how long would the war last if there was an invasion? Because we would never surrender.”
Maduro rarely makes appearances before noon, and some local media speculated the video could have been prerecorded.
It comes at a time when Maduro, 57, is fighting for political survival and after his rival, interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó, called for a military-civil uprising Tuesday that ultimately fell flat.
But since then, tens of thousands of people have been on the street calling for Maduro’s ouster — violently clashing with security forces.
Guaidó, the 35-year-old head of congress, is recognized as the country’s legitimate president by Washington and more than 50 other nations. He’s calling for permanent protests and escalating strikes to force Maduro out of office.
Despite statements by U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo and others that Maduro was prepared to step down and leave the country, the regime has shown few signs it’s willing to relinquish control.
On Wednesday, Maduro said he was prepared to make sweeping policy changes to “correct” the country’s course but offered no olive branches to an opposition that wants new elections.
On Thursday, Maduro said that the turmoil of the last few days was putting the country’s loyalty to the test. And he called for a crackdown on military officials who waiver.
“We must detain traitors and those who call for coups should be rejected and detained also,” he said.
Venezuela is mired in a deep political, economic and social crisis that has forced some 3.4 million people to flee the country in recent years. Maduro says that elections in May 2018, which many in the international community say were fatally flawed, give him the right to run the country through 2025.