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US and Colombian military working on plans to aid Venezuela after Maduro

Admiral Craig S. Faller, of the U.S. Southern Command, testifies before the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on July 9, 2019. (Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)

The United States is working with Colombia, Brazil and other regional partners on how to assist Venezuela if the embargo-like sanctions announced by the White House this week ultimately force President Nicolas Maduro to step down, the head of U.S. Southern Command said.

Navy Adm. Craig Faller, the Miami-based head of U.S. forces in South America, said the nations are working on “planning and discussing what we could do, and will do for the ‘day after Maduro,’ when there’s a legitimate government, when we can go in and really assist the people of Venezuela.”

Faller said that, to him, the “ ‘day after Maduro’ meant a point in time where a legitimate government, not a Maduro government, has asked the United States and others to come in to Venezuela to help.”

At present, “our partners are conducting their independent planning,” Faller said. “At some point, it will be very useful to work together, share plans,” he said, noting that any coordinated plan would have to be approved by each country. “And so there’s a willingness from key partners in the region to do that.”

From a U.S. military side, “our focus would be … alleviating human suffering,” Faller said. “The United States is very good at heavy lift, we are very good at supporting delivery.”

Colombia’s head of military forces, Gen. Luis Navarro, would not discuss any post-Maduro planning efforts when asked by McClatchy on Wednesday during a tour of Colombia’s military and law enforcement rehabilitation center in Bogota.

In the near term, however, the new sanctions could also mean additional pressures on Colombia. Already 1.3 million of the more than 4 million Venezuelans who have fled their homes have taken refuge in Colombia.

“It turns into a security issue for Colombia,” Navarro said. “We are facing a … humanitarian crisis in the region. For Colombia, in particular, it’s a large problem. We are talking about more than a million displaced citizens from Venezuela because of the difficult conditions. We have done all we can to host them in the best conditions, but available resources now are not enough.”

When asked if Colombia needs more resources from the U.S., Navarro said more support was needed from the international community as a whole. “But the biggest help is to fix the current problem in Venezuela,” he added.

During his visit to Colombia, Faller also visited Colombian Army counternarcotics forces in coca fields in Tumaco.

Drug trade is one of many illicit lines of funding Faller said Maduro is relying upon as other sources of revenue are frozen by the sanctions, and Colombia’s forces have increased their eradication efforts in recent months, which Faller said would help add economic pressure as mainstream trade is cut off.

On Tuesday, the Maduro government called the U.S. sanctions “economic terrorism,” which Faller called “a pack of lies.”

“What does anyone think about anything Maduro says? It’s generally a pack of lies,” Faller said. “The additional measures announced by the U.S. are part of that continued pressure that is designed exactly to influence Maduro and those who make up his mafia.”

Asked if the military was prepared to provide additional assistance if the sanctions lead to more Venezuelan refugees joining the already estimated 1.3 million in country, Faller said for now SOUTHCOM’s role would be to “continue to share intel and look for indicators for the range of security threats that emanate from Venezuela.”

“We’ll keep our eye on the migration piece very closely.”


© 2019 Miami Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.