The economic and political crisis in Venezuela deepened Saturday as President Nicolas Maduro threatened to seize closed factories and arrest their owners, whom he said were “trying to sabotage the country.”
Maduro spoke to supporters at a rally in Caracas as the country struggles to deal with food shortages, rapid inflation and riots, and just a day after he extended a state of emergency and accused the United States of trying to destabilize the country.
"Comrades, I am ready to hand over to communal power the factories that some conservative big wig in this country stopped. A stopped factory is a factory handed over to the people,” he said. “But we're going to do it, damn it! The time has come to do it and radicalize the revolution.”
Maduro said that any factory owners who stopped production at their plants should either leave the country or “be handcuffed and sent to the PGV (Venezuelan General Penitentiary).”
The decree issued Friday by Maduro also calls for military exercises to combat the “foreign aggression” he said led to the country’s current fiscal crisis.
"Next Saturday I have ordered national military exercises ... to prepare ourselves for any scenario," Maduro told his supporters at the rally.
Maduro's political opponents have become increasingly vocal, calling for the president to step down this year. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Caracas Saturday in support of a recall referendum to remove Maduro.
So far, anti-government activists have collected 1.8 million of the 4 million signatures needed to trigger a recall vote.
While Maduro accuses foreign governments and factory owners of waging an economic war against him, opposition leaders say that Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, drove the economy into the ground.