By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that he was increasing the nation's militia paramilitary force to half-a-million and instructed members to seize power in the oil-rich nation in case he is unseated.
"If the right wing attempts a coup d'etat, go out and seize power," the embattled President said Monday. "I have approved the plan for Defense Minister Padrino Lopez to expand our militia to 500,000 men and equip each of them, including a rifle."
The militia does not have Constitutional standing, as a move by the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro's mentor and predecessor, to have Venezuela's Magna Carta amended to provide that force was rejected in 2007.
During the televised proceedings marking the seventh anniversary of the creation of the militia Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino read an oath of allegiance to Maduro, a first in democratic Venezuelan history.
After Padrino read his unprecedented oath, Maduro spoke again, reiterating that the militia must come out and seize power if "any form of coup" is used to unseat him, and asked of all of the present more "union" and less "treason".
"It is not the time of treason," Maduro repeated several times.
Venezuela is convulsing in the midst of a humanitarian crisis peppered with violent street demonstrations that have so far resulted in 6 dead and some 500 arrested. The increasingly loathed Maduro has a popularity rate of around 9%, as under his rule the country began experiencing severe food and medicine shortages, hyper-inflation and one of the world's highest homicide rates.
The Attorney General's Office broke ranks with the Maduro administration three weeks ago, when it said that a maneuver by the Supreme Court to usurp the functions of the National Assembly was tantamount to a coup d'état. The Court partly backtracked in the wake of the international outcry, but then the government slapped a political ban on opposition leader Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski.
Violent protests denouncing the coup started April 4th and the government has been unable to stop them, in spite of using both heavy-handed repression and the promise to hold long-delayed state and municipal elections, widely seen as an opportunity for the opposition to broaden its power base.
The "right wing" or sometimes just "the fascist right wing" is Maduro's term of choice for the opposition, which in late 2015 won control of the legislative National Assembly in a historic landslide vote and is made up of parties that range from the far-left "Bandera Roja" party to the more conservative "Voluntad Popular", but whose biggest force is left-center, social-democratic party "Accion Democratica."Horror Show
On April 10, the Opposition called for a huge march on April 19. The government then also called for its forces to hold a counter-march in support of Maduro. April 19 is a national holiday in Venezuela marking the start of the nation's independence struggles against Spain in 1810.
On Sunday, Maduro ordered the army into the streets for what the opposition says will be the "mother of all protests."
"From the first reveille, from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets ... saying, 'Long live the Bolivarian revolution," Maduro warned Sunday evening.