U.S. Southern Command announced that it will be participating in military exercises just a few miles off Venezuela’s coast next month, as the island of Trinidad and Tobago plays host to an annual event called “Fused Response.”
In a statement, Southcom said the multilateral exercise is “aimed at strengthening relationships, building capacity and expanding cooperation among participating defense and security forces” and that it would include “realistic scenarios that test regional stability and challenge the skills of participants.”
The annual event has been held since 2011 and Barbados will be used as a staging area for this year’s exercise, which runs from April 16-26, Southcom said.
Venezuela routinely accuses Washington of plotting coups or outright invasions, and the military drills on an island less than 10 miles from its shore are likely to raise hackles.
In August, President Donald Trump rattled Venezuela, and the region, when he said he could not rule out a “military option” when dealing with President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have deep commercial and cultural ties. But the island of 1.4 million has come under increasing pressure as Venezuelans see it as an escape route from their country’s economic crisis.
During a gathering of Caribbean leaders in Haiti last month, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley told the Miami Herald that the flow of Venezuelans is generating security concerns, including firearms trafficking and human smuggling.
“We are managing it by monitoring who comes into the country and what they bring,” he said.
Earlier this week, Washington issued sanctions against four Venezuelan officials and barred U.S. citizens from dealing in the country’s Petro digital currency, as it continues to ratchet up pressure on the socialist administration.
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