Venezuela's Maduro seeks to capitalize on Trump's military threat

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CARACAS (Reuters) – While U.S. Vice President Mike Pence travels to Latin America tamping down concern over his boss’s threat of possible military action in Venezuela, the country’s leader Nicolas Maduro sought to capitalize on local outrage by holding an “anti-imperialist” protest on Monday.
The march started with a late morning rally and was expected to end at the presidential palace where Maduro will address the crowd, while a conciliatory Pence continued a tour of the region that began in Colombia on Sunday.
In Cartagena, Pence backpedaled from President Donald Trump’s statement last week that a “military option” was on the table for Venezuela.
The vice president said the U.S. administration is confident that a peaceful solution could be found to the crisis in oil-rich but economically ailing Venezuela, where more than 120 have died in anti-Maduro protests since April.
Trump’s comments may be a political lifeline for the unpopular Maduro. Like his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro says the country must be unified by socialism in order to defend against a U.S. invasion aimed at stealing Venezuela’s vast oil resources.
The march started at a downtown square, where hundreds of “Chavistas” moved to the rhythms of a local folk band playing on a makeshift stage. “Venezuela and Latin America united against the empire!” a marcher shouted, while the Socialist Party promoted Twitter hashtags #StopTrump and #TrumpGoHome.
Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez (C) gestures as he poses for a group picture after a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 14, 2017.
Andres Martinez Casares
Television interrupted coverage of the march to broadcast an address by the Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. With dozens of battle-ready troops behind him at an army base, including one soldier with a shoulder-fired missile launcher pointed skyward, Padrino warned that the United States wants to steal Venezuela’s oil reserves.
Venezuela’s opposition coalition on Sunday rejected foreign threats to the country, without specifically identifying Trump or the United States while criticizing Maduro’s close relationship with Communist-run Cuba.
“This is a time of reflection,” Padrino said. “You are either a Venezuelan patriot, or pro-Yankee.”
Last month Venezuela elected a “constituent assembly” with sweeping powers, including the writing of a new constitution and allowing Maduro to rule by decree. In 2015 the opposition won control of Congress, but its decisions have been nullified by Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court.
Maduro and his allies say the constituent assembly is Venezuela’s only hope for securing peace and prosperity.
The opposition boycotted the assembly, calling it a step toward dictatorship as the nation suffers from triple-digit inflation and acute shortages of food and medicine.

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