International: Opposition accuses Maduro of militarizing Margarita Island to host Summit of Non-Aligned Movement


LA ASUNCIóN, Venezuela, Sept. 13 (UPI) – Venezuela’s Margarita Island has been all but shut down by President Nicolas Maduro in advance of the 17th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.


The meeting of the 120-member group of countries began on Tuesday on Margarita Island and ends Sunday.


Prior to the start of the summit, Maduro deployed 14,000 National Bolivarian Armed Forces troops, police and intelligence personnel to the island.


Among security measures that will last until at least Sunday, the Venezuelan military has restricted flights, port access and closed beaches, restaurants and seafood shops.


The main event of the summit will be held on Saturday when officials, including heads of state, will meet to discuss topics including peace and disarmament, according to Venezuela’s Presidential Press.


The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in Yugoslavia in 1961 as a group of nations not aligned officially with either the East or the West in the Cold War. Member countries include current NAM president Iran, Colombia, South Africa, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Jamaica and Belarus, the only European member.


Opposition leaders in Venezuela accuse Maduro of unjustifiably spending about $120 million to host the summit while the country facing a serious economic crisis, with widespread shortages of food and basic goods. They have likened Maduro’s measures on the island to an illegal militarization that is harming the local population reliant on tourism.


“While the people are starving and struggling to buy medicine because there is none: What are we going to say to the patients who do not have medicines against cancer and the thousands that today are dying in hospitals?” National Assembly opposition member Luis Florido, who heads the unicameral parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, said Monday. “What of your money for medicines are you using for the Summit of the Non-Aligned? What do we tell the mothers who do not find food and whose children sleep without eating? Only in an inhuman Maduro regime is that able to cover reality.”


During a press conference, Diosdado Cabello, former president of Venezuela’s parliament and a key ally to Maduro, said security was the only reason for the increased military presence and measures.


“It is not easy to have 120 countries and you have to ensure security. There are more than 3,500 people coming,” Cabello said, adding that officials would need to coordinate with a vast number of ships. “The issue of security … is under careful review …and it has to be that way, as any country would do so.”


The opposition accuses the Maduro regime of carrying out further punishment against Margarita, where Maduro was chased by protesters — many banging on pots and yelling — in the town of Villa Rosa as the embattled leader visited Margarita earlier this month.


“Maduro’s regime militarized Margarita to suppress the people and keep dark the Venezuelan reality,” Florido said in a statement.


“Venezuelans reject that they spend millions of dollars in a show in Margarita while the country needs food and medicine!” Henrique Capriles, governor of Venezuela’s Miranda state and a key opposition leader who almost defeated Maduro in a 2013 election, said in a statement.


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