Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered an expansion of civilian militia by nearly 1mn members as opposition leader Juan Guaido toured western Zulia state, which has been hard hit by electricity blackouts.
Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who in January invoked Venezuela’s constitution to assume an interim presidency, has called on the military to abandon Maduro amid a hyperinflationary economic collapse made worse by several nationwide blackouts in the past month.
Guaido has been recognised as Venezuela’s rightful leader by the US and most western countries, who agree with his argument that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
The civilian militia, created in 2008 by the late former president and Maduro mentor Hugo Chavez, reports directly to the presidency and is intended to complement the armed forces.
Maduro, who calls Guaido a US puppet, said he aimed to raise the number of militia members to 3mn by year-end from what he said was more than 2mn currently.
Maduro has encouraged them to become involved in agricultural production.
Shortages of food and medicine have prompted more than 3mn Venezuelans to emigrate in recent years.
“With your rifles on your shoulders, be ready to defend the fatherland and dig the furrow to plant the seeds to produce food for the community, for the people,” Maduro, a socialist, told thousands of militia members gathered in the capital Caracas, wearing khaki camouflaged uniforms.
So far, the military top brass has remained loyal to Maduro despite Guaido’s offer of amnesty to military members who switch sides.
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