CARACAS, Venezuela, Tuesday May 17, 2016 – Following Friday’s introduction of a nationwide state of emergency, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has threatened the seizure of factories that have halted production, and the jailing of their owners.
Maduro said the state of emergency was needed to combat “foreign aggression”, which he blamed for Venezuela’s problems, adding that military exercises would take place next weekend to counter “foreign threats.” BBC news reports that in an address to the nation, Maduro said the state of emergency would be in place for three months, but would likely be extended over 2017.
While he did not specify if there would be limits to other constitutional rights, he said the decree would provide “a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people.” The Venezuelan Minister for Communication and Information, Luis Jose Marcano, said the state of emergency would allow the government more resources to distribute food, basic goods and medicines.
He nevertheless added that it also created “mechanisms for the security forces to be able to guarantee public order needed because of the threats by armed groups.” The threat to seize closed factories came after Venezuela’s largest food and beverage company, the Polar Group, halted production of beer, blaming government mismanagement for stopping it importing barley.
“We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralysed by the bourgeoisie,” the Venezuelan leader told a rally in Caracas. “Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV [Venezuelan General Penitentiary],” he said. “We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other… to defend this sacred land,” he added.
Venezuelans have nevertheless lost interest in Maduro’s moves because of the harsh realities of the economic crisis. The state of emergency and the occupation of certain factories have changed little for Venezuelans’ daily lives. Although Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, the country’s economy has been severely hit by falling global oil prices. Its economy contracted by 5.7 percent last year and its official inflation rate is estimated to be topping 180 percent, according to the BBC.
There are severe shortages of food, medicines and basic goods which Mr Maduro argues are due to business leaders and the US waging an economic war against his government. As the crisis deepens, Venezuelans now have to cope with energy and water rationing almost daily, on top of having to queue for hours every week to buy the most basic products.
Meanwhile, opposition protesters have been rallying in Caracas to push for a recall vote to eject Maduro from power. The opposition has collected and submitted a petition with 1.8 million signatures in favour of a referendum on Maduro, but the National Electoral Board (CNE) has so far not verified them. The verification process was supposed to take five days but 13 days have elapsed so far.
Opposition activists say authorities are not letting them proceed to the next stage when they must collect another four million signatures. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, if a referendum is held before the end of the year, a recall vote against Maduro would trigger new elections. Addressing the crowds on Saturday, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said: “We want a country without queues, where we can find medicines. We want change.” He described Venezuela as a “time bomb that can explode at any given moment.”