President Nicolas Maduro is reportedly sending elite special forces into poor areas of the capital Caracas to terrorize opposition supporters, while pleading with the ‘American people’ to stop the US government from creating ‘another Vietnam’.
The masked Special Action Force (FAES) has been branded Maduro’s own ‘extermination group’ for its ruthless methods, and has allegedly been carrying out nightly raids in the Caracas’ slums armed with tear gas, guns and even grenades.
In a desperate attempt to win back the support of the public from Juan Guaido, who was recognized as president by the US and most Western nations as of last week, Maduro has also been blocking social networks in Venezuela.
Taking action: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is seen flashing the V-sign during a military rally in Caracas amid reports he has been sending in elite troops to terrorise opposition supporters in the slums of the capital
President Maduro, centre, is seen raising his fist as he speaks to members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), during a military rally in Caracas today
The Spanish phrase ‘Sacred soil of the fatherland’ covers an administrative office at a wholesale food market, near a ‘slum’ in Caracas, Venezuela
The masked Special Action Force (FAES), pictured, has been branded President Maduro’s personal ‘extermination group’ for its ruthless methods
Members of the Bolivarian National Police Special Forces Group (FAES) detain a group of men during an operation against criminal groups at Petare neighborhood in Caracas last week
Internet watchdog group NetBlocks reported that social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube were taken offline by the government-run provider as Guaido called for street protests against Maduro.
The recent night-time raids in Caracas’ slums are part of Maduro’s efforts to force Guaido supporters into submission through fear.
‘Since Jan. 22, every day they get into the slum,’ a woman named Leida, who lives in Petare, one of the largest slums in the country on the outskirts of Caracas, told Bloomberg.
‘They enter armed, and we have even heard grenades. They cover their faces. They have killed six people.’
The U.N. human rights office said the recent unrest in Venezuela had so far led to the deaths of more than 40 people.
While reportedly terrorizing opposition supporters on his home turf, Maduro turned to the US, asking the ‘American people’ for help to prevent a ‘Vietnam in Latin America.’
In a 45-second video shot late Tuesday from the presidential palace, he accused the US government of looking to get its hands on Venezuela’s abundant oil reserves, and pleaded with regular Americans to keep U.S. troops out of the country.
Begging: Late Tuesday evening, Maduro turned to the US, asking the ‘American people’ to prevent the US from taking military action in Venezuela
In a video posted online, the President pleaded with the ‘American people’ to help to prevent a ‘Vietnam in Latin America’
Mystery plane: A passenger jet from Russian company Nordwind is seen at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas, Venezuela
The video was broadcast just hours after Maduro claimed US president Donald Trump has ordered the Colombian government and mafia to assassinate him.
‘Without a doubt, Donald Trump gave the order to kill me, told the Colombian government, the Colombian mafia, to kill me,’ Maduro said in an interview with Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency
‘If something happens to me, Donald Trump and Colombian President Ivan Duque will be responsible.’
President Trump in response, urged Americans not to travel to Venezuela amid the mounting tensions, echoing his State Department’s warning that the country is unstable.
He also said in a tweet on Wednesday morning that the stringent US sanctions placed on Venezeula and the fact he had cut off oil revenue were the reason why Maduro was considering negotiating with the opposition.
President Trump also warned Americans not to travel to Venezuela amid the mounting tensions. He also
Military backing: President Nicolas Maduro and Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, left, are seen taking part in a ceremony during military exercises at the Libertador Air Base in Maracay, Aragua state, Venezuela, on Tuesday
Maduro counts on the support of the military, and is unlikely to back down unless that changes
Maduro is seen addressing troops during a military exercise at the Libertador Air Base in Maracay, Aragua state, Venezuela
Meanwhile, a Russian chartered Boeing 777 – carrying just two crewmembers and no passengers – landed in Caracas, allegedly to carry 20 tons of gold from the Central Bank of Venezuela out of the country.
Venezuelan MP Jose Guerra, a former head of research at the Central Bank, took to twitter to claim the plane had been chartered to spirit away $840million worth of gold, but offered no concrete evidence to back his claims.
The Nordwind Airlines flight travelled from Moscow to Caracas on Monday, despite the commercial travel company not offering any flights from Russia to Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government has denied that there is a Russian plane at Simon Bolivar International Airport and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it has no information about the charter jet, according to South China Morning Post.
Video footage shared on social media earlier today allegedly shows armoured Colombian Army vehicles near the border with Venezuela, however their purpose is not yet known.
Maduro, who spent Tuesday taking part in military exercises at an air force base, has also said he is ‘willing to sit down for talks with the opposition’ to ensure a peaceful future.
However, while Maduro spoke of peace and opened up for talks with Guaido, his government is preparing an investigation that could lead to the opposition leader’s arrest.
Yesterday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court imposed a travel ban on Guaido and froze his bank accounts in apparent retaliation for US sanctions.
Blame: The embattled Venezuelan President said that if something happens to him, US President Donald Trump, pictured last week, ‘will be responsible’
Mixed messages: Maudro opened up for dialogue with the opposition at the same time as his government imposed a travel ban on opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela last week, and froze his bank accounts
The 35-year-old opposition lawmaker, who is president of the National Assembly, has called for clean elections, arguing that Maduro fraudulently won a second term last year. Guaido is offering an amnesty to tempt military officials to join him.
Maduro, who accuses Guaido of staging a U.S.-directed coup against him, counts on the support of the military, and is unlikely to back down unless that changes. Russia and China are also key benefactors, giving him diplomatic backing at the U.N. Security Council.
A former union leader who succeeded his charismatic mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, Maduro has overseen a shrinking economy and the migration of more than 3 million Venezuelans fleeing food and drug shortages and hyperinflation.
Guaido called for more protests on Wednesday and a mass march on the weekend, in a bid to keep up pressure on Maduro in the streets. Wednesday’s action would not be a major march, but a series of small concentrations, Guaido said.
Government supporters have also attended large rallies led by Maduro’s political allies, while the president visited military bases including overseeing live-fire exercises in recent days.
Students walk past a painting of US President Donald Trump on a wall in Caracas on Tuesday
Venezuelan opposition demonstrators, chant slogans during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, last week
He ordered the creation of 50,000 popular defense units, community groups he said would be charged with the ‘integral defense of the fatherland.’
While it was not clear if they would be armed, the strategy reflects the government’s concern the United States could try to defeat Maduro militarily.
The Pentagon has refused to rule out military action, although is it not considered likely by most experts. Trump’s top advisers include Cold War-era hawks.
While the Venezuelan Army officially backs Maduro, there have been several defectors who have fled the country and are calling for the US government to give them military assistance and weapons.
‘As Venezuelan soldiers, we are making a request to the US to support us, in logistical terms, with communication, with weapons, so we can realize Venezuelan freedom,’ former soldier Carlos Guillen Martinez told CNN.
The news of defectors appeared to have reached the ears of Maduro on Wednesday, as he hit out at military ‘mercenaries’ he says are conspiring to divide the armed forces and plot a coup.
Maduro accused an ‘oligarchy’ in neighboring Colombia of being behind an attempt by military deserters to drive a wedge between himself and his loyal forces.
Speaking at a parade of 2,500 military personnel in Caracas, Maduro declared: ‘Where there are mercenary traitors, justice!’
The US-imposed sanctions are also expected to hit daily life hard in Venezuela, where public spending is almost entirely funded by oil revenues.
The government is eager to blame Guaido for the measures, which, once they begin to bite, could diminish his popularity.
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Saab sought the preliminary investigation of Guaido on the basis that he had helped foreign countries interfere in internal matters.
Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno, announcing the investigation, the travel ban and the financial restrictions, said the decision was taken expressly to ‘protect the integrity of the country.’
In a tweet, national security adviser Bolton warned of ‘serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido.’