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Maduro displays Venezuela’s sea and air power near Guyana in response to British warship

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro applauds during the arrival of Colombian businessman Alex Saab (out of frame) at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas on Dec. 20, 2023. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Declaring the visit of a British warship to Guyana “an intolerable threat,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday launched an impromptu military exercise in waters close to its neighbor aiming to show sea and air power amid a border dispute between the two countries.

While providing few details about the extent and duration of the exercise, the Venezuelan military said that its initial phase included the participation of about a dozen war vessels, including gunboats and supply ships, and twice as many planes, including fighter jets, in the Gulf of Paria, west of Trinidad, and in front of the Orinoco Delta, west of Guyana.

The announcement made on national television follows reports that the HMS Trent was to visit Guyana this week to participate in joint exercises with Caribbean nations. The patrol vessel is normally based on Gibraltar and is mainly used to combat piracy and drug trafficking.

The Trent’s visit was reported less than two weeks after Venezuela and Guyana had pledged to cool down the growing animosity between the two countries, which had resurfaced after the Caracas socialist regime held a referendum earlier this month asking Venezuelans for special powers to take by force about three quarters of the territory currently occupied by its neighbor.

Maduro said on national television, while surrounded by military officers, that he saw the visit of the British warship as a threat.

“Venezuela cannot sit idly by in the face of a threat, we are responding in a proportional measure,” he said. “I ordered the activation of a joint action of the entire Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) on the eastern Caribbean of Venezuela, on the Atlantic coast, a joint action of a defensive nature in response to the provocation and threat of the United Kingdom against the peace and the sovereignty of our country.”

A State Department official told McClatchy that the U.S. government was aware of the news of military exercises in Venezuela and said that the administration continues to call for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

“We welcomed the December 14 agreement between Guyana’s President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali and Nicolas Maduro in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstances and to refrain from escalating any conflict or disagreement,” the official said.

“We continue to call for a peaceful resolution of the dispute and to respect the 1899 arbitral award that determined the land boundary between Venezuela and Guyana until the parties reach a new agreement or a competent legal body decides otherwise,” he added.

The British embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ali, on his X account, said that neither Venezuela nor any other state has anything to fear from the scheduled military exercises being conducted in Guyana’s territory.

“We harbor no ambitions or intentions to covet what does not belong to us. We are fully committed to peaceful relations with our neighbors and all countries in our Region. Guyana remains fully steadfast in promoting and advancing peace whilst pursuing national development,” he said. “Guyana has long been engaged in partnerships with regional and international states aimed at enhancing internal security. These partnerships pose a threat to no one and are in no way intended to be aggressive or constitute an offensive act against any State.”

A Ministry of Defense spokesperson earlier this week had told the BBC: “HMS Trent will visit regional ally and Commonwealth partner Guyana later this month as part of a series of engagements in the region during her Atlantic Patrol Task deployment.”

The Trent was to have made a stop in Bridgetown, Barbados, after leaving its homeport at Gibraltar earlier this month and was scheduled to head toward Guyana this week and anchor off Georgetown to participate in a series of training exercises with the country’s navy and other allies, the BBC reported. It was not clear where the Trent was at the time of Maduro’s announcement.

Armed with a 30 millimeter cannon, two mini-guns and several machine guns, the 297-feet long HMS Trent is mostly used to combat piracy and anti-smuggling operations. It normally carries a helicopter and a detachment of Royal Marines.

Seeking to lower tensions, the leaders of Guyana and Venezuela met two weeks ago in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and pledged not to use force to resolve the dispute over which nation is the rightful owner of an oil- and mineral-rich region bordering the two countries, roughly the size of Florida.

The border dispute, which has been going on since the beginning of the 19th century, gained intensity following a referendum held on Dec. 3, in which the Caracas socialist regime asked Venezuelans to green-light the use of force to annex three-quarters of Guyana.

The Maduro government said that 95% of Venezuelans voted in favor of the forced annexation, but independent observers questioned the results saying that the empty polling stations seen during the vote did not support claims that more than 10 million people participated.


© 2023 Miami Herald

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