Maduro in crackdown under Venezuela emergency decree

A woman holds a sign reading "Hunger" during a demo against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on May 14, 2016.
A woman holds a sign reading "Hunger" during a demo against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on May 14, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

CARACAS  (AFP) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown on Saturday under a new emergency decree, ordering authorities to seize factories “paralysed by the bourgeoisie,” and to arrest their owners.

He also ordered military exercises to “prepare for any scenario,” a day after declaring a state of emergency to fight what he called “foreign aggression” that he blamed for an economic crisis that has pushed the country to the brink of collapse.

The embattled South American president is struggling to contain a paralysing recession that has led to food shortages, soaring prices, riots, looting and vigilante justice.

An elected socialist, Maduro accused the United States on Friday of destabilising the country at the behest of the “fascist Venezuelan right,” prompting him to declare a state of emergency.

Addressing his supporters in Caracas Saturday, Maduro detailed the extent of the new decree.

“We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralysed by the bourgeoisie,” he said.

“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).”

The move comes after the largest food and beverage company in Venezuela, the Polar Group, halted production of beer, saying government mismanagement meant it was no longer able to import barley for production.

Polar’s four breweries supply 80 per cent of the domestic beer consumed in Venezuela.

The company’s owner, billionaire businessman Lorenzo Mendoza, is a vocal opponent of Maduro, and the President has accused him of being part of an “economic war” on his government along with US business interests.

Turning to the alleged foreign threat, Maduro said he had ordered military exercises in one week’s time “to prepare ourselves for any scenario.” The moves come as Venezuela’s opposition pushes for a referendum on removing the deeply unpopular president from power.

Opposition leaders have launched the process by collecting 1.8 million signatures in favor of a recall vote, but say authorities are now stalling.