Army declares loyalty to Maduro as Venezuela braces for giant rally

Venezuela is bracing for what President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents say will be the “mother of all protests” on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2017

Army declares loyalty to Maduro as Venezuela braces for giant rally

CARACAS: Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has declared the army’s loyalty to President Nicolas Maduro, who ordered troops into the streets ahead of a major protest by opponents trying to oust him.
Venezuela is bracing for what Maduro’s opponents vow will be the “mother of all protests” Wednesday, after two weeks of clashes between police and demonstrators protesting against moves by the leftist leader and his allies to tighten their grip on power.
The center-right opposition has called on the military — a pillar of Maduro’s power — to turn on the president amid an economic and political crisis that has triggered severe food shortages, riots and looting.
But the defense minister said the army “confirms its unconditional loyalty to the president.”
He made the comment before thousands of rifle-carrying members of the pro-Maduro “Bolivarian militia,” who cheered with fists raised at a rally outside the presidential palace.
Maduro thanked the army and the militia for their support and announced he planned to expand the latter civilian force to half a million armed members.
“Loyalty is repaid with loyalty,” he said.
The rally came hours after Maduro ordered the military into the streets to defend the leftist “Bolivarian revolution” launched by his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
“From the first reveille (on Monday morning), from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets ... saying, ‘Long live the Bolivarian revolution,’” he said on Sunday night in a televised address.
He called for the militia to be in “permanent training” and “permanent deployment” to defend Venezuela against “any imperialist aggression” — a thinly veiled reference to the US.
Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles dismissed Maduro’s announcement.
“The old fogey has announced one rifle for every militia member. He is more desperate than ever,” Capriles wrote on Twitter.
“Venezuela does not want rifles, it wants food and medicine.”
Venezuela has been rocked by unrest since March 30, when Maduro’s camp moved to consolidate its control with a Supreme Court decision quashing the power of the opposition-majority legislature.
The court partly backtracked after an international outcry, but tension only rose further when authorities slapped a political ban on Capriles.
Five people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the ensuing protests as demonstrators clashed with riot police firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
Non-government groups have accused the authorities of repression of protesters and of using firearms to put down the rallies.
Padrino Lopez on Monday blamed the violence on criminals, retorting that “action by the state to restore public order cannot be called repression.”
Maduro’s opponents have called for a massive protest Wednesday, a national holiday that marks the start of Venezuela’s independence struggle in 1810.
The president’s supporters have called a counter-demonstration the same day.
It is a touchy date in Venezuela, where Chavez and Maduro have built a politics of populist, left-wing nationalism around the fight for independence from colonial Spain and around the hero of the struggle, Simon Bolivar.
Eleven Latin American countries on Monday asked Venezuela to guarantee the “right to peaceful demonstration,” lamenting deaths that have already occurred during the protests.
Maduro’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on Twitter called the statement from the 11 countries “political selectivity,” accusing the group of endorsing “the violent vandalism of the opposition.”
Maduro is fighting efforts to force him from power as Venezuela flounders through a crippling three-year recession and confronts the world’s highest inflation rate.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but the fall in global crude prices since 2014 has laid bare its overwhelming dependence on its chief export.
Lacking the oil dollars it once used to import nearly everything else, the country has been hit by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods like deodorant and toilet paper.
With some 165,000 troops and 25,000 reserves, the army controls production and distribution of basic foods.
Eleven of Maduro’s 32 government ministers are current or retired military officers.


Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

Updated 06 June 2020

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

  • US tops COVID-19 mortality rally with 108,000 people confirmed dead
  • Trump says more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election. Just 2 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, a Monmouth University poll found earlier in the week.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. ... This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump condemned “what happened last week,” said no other president has done as much for black Americans, and declared that an economic rebound was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
Putting words in the dead man’s mouth drew quick criticism, including from likely presidential foe Joe Biden, who said it was “despicable.” The Trump campaign said any reports saying Trump was contending Floyd would be praising the economic news were “wrong, purposefully misrepresented, and maliciously crafted.”
A few blocks away, city workers painted a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign on 16th Street leading to the White House.
Politically, few things matter more to Trump’s future than the state of the US economy, which was all but shut down by state governments this spring to prevent greater spread of the deadly coronavirus. Defying health experts, the president has aggressively encouraged states to re-open and has assailed state leaders by name who resist.
At the same time, he’s taken an uneven approach to explosive racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death. As he has in recent days, Trump on Friday offered a sympathetic message to Floyd in one breath and lashed out at protests in his name the next.
Local governments “have to dominate the streets,” Trump said. “You can’t let what’s happening happen.”
The president spoke in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department said that US employers added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month. Economists had been expecting them instead to slash 8 million jobs in continuing fallout from the pandemic.
The jobless rate, at 13.3%, is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression. And for the second straight month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the virus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.
Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20% or more, the news was seen as evidence that the collapse may have bottomed out in April.
Friday’s report made for some tricky reaction gymnastics for Trump’s Democratic election opponent, Biden, who sought to contrast the improving figures with the fact that millions of Americans are still out of work. The high jobless rate, he said, is due to the Trump administration mishandling the response to the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about something: The depth of this jobs crisis is not attributable to an act of God but to a failure of a president,” Biden declared in a Delaware speech shortly after Trump spoke.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump was patting himself on the back as America faces some of its sternest challenges ever.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker, take a look around at the consequences,” Biden said.
It’s unclear how many jobs that were lost as a result of the pandemic are permanently gone or whether the reopenings in states will create a second surge of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, the report from mid-May doesn’t reflect the effect that protests across the nation have had on business.
Many economists digging into the jobs report saw a struggle ahead after the burst of hiring last month.
Friday’s report reflected the benefits of nearly $3 trillion in government aid instead of an organic return to normal. Only one of every nine jobs lost because of the pandemic has been recovered, and the specter of corporate bankruptcies hangs over the recovery.
Much of the growth came from 2.7 million workers who were temporarily laid-off going back to their jobs. This likely reflected $510 billion in forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program to nearly 4.5 million employers — an administration initiative that helped push the unemployment rate down to 13.3% from 14.7% in April. African American unemployment rose slightly to 16.8 percent.
Late Friday, Trump signed legislation to add new flexibility to the PPP, giving business owners more flexibility to use taxpayer subsidies and extending the life of the program.
As the money from the PPP runs out, there could be another round of layoffs, warned Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University.
“There will be continuing residual fear and uncertainty,” Sohn said.
Trump on Friday defended his handling of the pandemic, contending that more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted. More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, though, Trump said states and cities should be lifting remaining restrictions. “I don’t know why they continue to lock down,” he said of some jurisdictions that have maintained closings.
Former South Carolina Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who briefly mounted a primary challenge to Trump last year, dismissed any employment gain due to federal deficit spending.
“What we have right now is federal policy aimed solely at boosting numbers that obviously would help in a reelection effort,” Sanford said in an interview. “We’re literally buying jobs.”
But there was little sign of concern among Trump and his Republican allies in Washington.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the jobs numbers. He added: “Today is probably the greatest comeback in American history.”
He pitched himself as key to a “rocket ship” rebound that would fail only if he doesn’t win reelection.
“I’m telling you next year, unless something happens or the wrong people get in here, this will turn around,” Trump said.