Venezuela accuses US of trying to engineer coup

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures while he arrives for a special session of the National Constituent Assembly to present his annual state of the nation in Caracas, Venezuela January 14, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Venezuela accuses US of trying to engineer coup

  • Venezuela’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez accused Pence of having ordered “terrorists” to carry out acts of violence during Wednesday’s protest

CARACAS: Venezuela’s vice president on Tuesday accused her US counterpart of “openly calling for a coup d’etat” ahead of a mass street protest announced by the opposition for Wednesday.
“Yankee go home! We won’t let them interfere in the affairs of the homeland,” Delcy Rodriguez said in televised remarks.
Her comments came in reaction to American Vice President Mike Pence, who had earlier posted a video on Twitter in which he branded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.”
“As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you,” Pence tweeted.
Venezuela’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez accused Pence of having ordered “terrorists” to carry out acts of violence during Wednesday’s protest.
The row came 24 hours after a group of soldiers rose up against Maduro at a command post in the north of Caracas and published a video on social media calling for the public to come out and support them.
They surrendered after the command post was surrounded by police and military units, with 27 people arrested.
But their voices were heard, according to the non-governmental Social Conflict Observatory, which said on Tuesday that anti-Maduro protests were recorded in at least 30 different locations around the capital.
Jorge Rodriguez said the mutinous soldiers had confessed to handing out some of the weapons they stole on Monday from a command depot to opposition activists “so they can carry out acts of violence, (cause) injuries and deaths during the protest.”
And he said they did so as they were following Pence’s orders.
Most of the protests took place in socially disadvantaged areas and some involved the blocking of streets and burning of garbage.
Police used tear gas to disperse some of the crowds, including in the northern Cotiza neighborhood where the group of soldiers made their stand.
The unrest, which lasted in some places until Tuesday morning, was a small taste of what may come on Wednesday when protesters are set to mobilize behind National Assembly president Juan Guaido.
The opposition deputy has branded Maduro a “usurper” and wants to establish a transitional government leading to elections.

The smell of pepper spray lingered in the air on Tuesday following clashes between protesters and law enforcement in the northern Los Mecedores neighborhood.
“Maduro out! That’s what the people were shouting. It was awful,” 60-year-old Dinora de Longa told AFP.
“The police were shooting and there was tear gas everywhere. I had to put my grandchildren in the bathroom. This won’t solve anything.”
One protest, in which people pelted cars with stones, took place on the motorway linking Caracas to the neighboring port of La Guaira, where the capital’s airport is located.
The anti-Maduro movement has gained traction since the former bus driver was sworn in for a second term as president on January 10.
Maduro won highly controversial elections in May that were boycotted by the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the European Union, United States and Organization of American States.
The opposition accuses Maduro of running an authoritarian regime and acting unconstitutionally.
In 2016 he lost control of the National Assembly, enabling the opposition to challenge his leadership, but the loyalist-dominated Supreme Court stripped the legislature of its powers in 2017.
The National Assembly has been powerless since then but Guaido, who became president of the body earlier this month, has risen to the challenge of taking on Maduro’s iron grip on power.

Wednesday’s protest date of January 23 is significant because it marks 61 years since the fall of Marcos Perez Jimenez’s dictatorship.
The regime has responded by announcing its own demonstration in support of Maduro.
It will be the first major street movement since 125 people were killed during civil unrest between April and July 2017.
Venezuela is suffering the worst economic crisis in its modern history with poverty rising and the country gripped by four years of recession.
Basic necessities such as food and medicine have been in short supply, while spiraling inflation — predicted to reach a mind-boggling 10 million percent this year — has crippled the currency.
The crisis was sparked by a fall in the global oil price in 2014, a commodity Venezuela is almost entirely reliant upon.
Its crude production has dropped to barely a third of its level a decade ago.


US steps up winter-warfare training as global threat shifts

Updated 19 min 43 sec ago
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US steps up winter-warfare training as global threat shifts

  • The exercise is designed to train troops for the next war, one the US believes will be against a more capable, high-tech enemy like Russia, North Korea or China
  • Nearly 8,000 feet up at a training center in the California mountains, the air is thin, the snow is chest high and the temperature is plunging

MARINE MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, California: Hunkered down behind a wall of snow, two US Marines melt slush to make drinking water after spending the night digging out a defensive position high in the Sierra Nevada. Their laminated targeting map is wedged into the ice just below the machine gun.
Nearly 8,000 feet up at a training center in the California mountains, the air is thin, the snow is chest high and the temperature is plunging. But other Marines just a few kilometers away are preparing to attack, and forces on both sides must be able to battle the enemy and the unforgiving environment.
The exercise is designed to train troops for the next war — one the US believes will be against a more capable, high-tech enemy like Russia, North Korea or China. The weather conditions on the mountain mimic the kind of frigid fight that forces could face in one of those future hotspots.
“We haven’t had to deal with these things. We’ve been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, head of the Marines’ Training and Education Command. “What we really have to do is wake folks up, expose them to things that they haven’t had to think about for quite a while.”
After 17 years of war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. US forces must be able to survive and fight while countering drones, sophisticated jamming equipment and other electronic and cyber warfare that can track them, disrupt communications and kill them — technology they didn’t routinely face over the last decade.
“If you were to draw a line from here to the DMZ between North and South Korea, both of these sites are on the 38th parallel. And so the weather here accurately replicates the weather that we would encounter in North and South Korea,” said Col. Kevin Hutchison, the training center commander. “What you’re seeing here is Marines fighting Marines, so we are replicating a near-peer threat.”
As a snowstorm swirls around them, Mullen and Hutchison move through the woods, checking in with the young Marines designated as the adversary force of about 250 troops who must prevent more than 800 attackers from gaining control of nearby Wolf Creek Bridge. An Associated Press team was allowed to accompany them to the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center south of Lake Tahoe and watch the training.
Lance Cpl. Reese Nichols, from Pensacola, Florida, and Lance Cpl. Chase Soltis of Bozeman, Montana, dug their defensive position a day ago, and they’ve been watching all night for enemy movement, while using a small burner to melt snow to stay hydrated.
The hardest part, said Nichols, is “boiling water 24/7. And the cold. It’s cold.”
The cold and wet conditions force the Marines to use snowshoes and cross-country skis to get around. They wrap white camouflage around their weapons, struggle to keep the ammunition dry and learn how to position their machine guns so they don’t sink into the powdery snow.
“It’s kind of overwhelming coming up here. Many of them have never been exposed to snow before,” said Staff Sgt. Rian Lusk, chief instructor for the mountain sniper course. “You’re constantly having to dig or move up the mountain range. So, it’s physically taxing, but more than anything, I think, it’s mentally taxing.”
The Marine Corps has changed its training in the mountain course and at Twentynine Palms Marine base 400 miles south. Instead of scripted exercises, trainers map out general objectives and let the Marines make their own battle decisions, replicating a more unpredictable combat situation.
Rather than fighting from forward operating bases that stretched across Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with security forces and chow halls, troops now have to be more independent, commanders say, providing their own protection and support. And they must prepare for a more formidable, high-tech enemy.
Mullen recalled speaking to a commander in Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “He said that within two minutes of keying his handset he had rockets coming in on his position,” said Mullen, who spent two days at Twentynine Palms, watching a battlefield exercise, before flying to the Bridgeport base in California’s Toiyabe National Forest.
The key in both places, said Mullen, is whether the Marines can stay undetected and adjust their battle plan quickly when faced with unexpected threats.
Back on the mountain, Mullen and Hutchison have seized on that issue. The attacking force, members of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, California, spotted one of the adversary’s fighting positions and fired on it. The simulated attack didn’t hurt anyone, but the competition is real for the defending forces from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, out of Twentynine Palms.
“You took casualties today, and you didn’t respond to it,” Hutchison told the platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Brendan Dixon of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Why, pressed Mullen, didn’t Dixon move his Marines to a safer location?
In the face of questioning from senior leaders, Dixon held his ground, confident his forces were in the right place to defend the bridge.
It turns out, he was right.
Moving toward the bridge, the attacking forces became trapped on a ridgeline, exposed to the enemy and unable to move through a ravine filled with snow. Gunfire exploded across the ridge.
The final assessment by the trainers was that the attackers suffered 30-40 percent casualties, while Dixon’s troops lost about 10 percent.
The attacking force, said Hutchison, made some decisions that would have resulted in Marine deaths in a real battle, but it’s better to learn now, than in combat.
“In the Far East, whether it’s in northern Europe, etc., we’re replicating that here. And what we’re finding is, it’s an extremely challenging problem,” said Hutchison. “And it’s a problem that, frankly, if we don’t train to, it’s going to cost a lot of Marine lives.”