Nearly 100,000 soldiers are taking part in massive 10-day military exercises across Venezuela, which were staged to counter an alleged US threat. It follows Washington’s decision to impose new sanctions against Venezuelan officials last week.
Venezuelan Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino Lopez announced that the military exercises began on Saturday and were designed to get the troops ready for “their mission, their goal, and with the will to be victorious.”
Lopez added that the US sanctions are an “imminent danger for us,” which is why the nation’s army must be ready to fight for its independence.
Most of the maneuvers will be carried out south of Caracas. The rest will take place in Venezuela’s oil-producing areas, such as the Caribbean coast.
The nation’s army will also be testing its air defenses and anti-aircraft systems, ensuring they are ready to be deployed.
The military exercises are due to show off Chinese amphibian weapons, Russian-built missiles, and other military hardware.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro praised the country’s army in a televised address on Saturday, stating “We have a military that is the best guarantee of peace.”
“The insolent boot of imperialism dared touch the sacred land of Venezuela, that day if we had to fight for the dignity of our country, we would do it for peace and for the sovereignty and the integrity [of the country],” he added.
American-Venezuelan relations hit a new low last week, after US President Barack Obama signed and issued an executive order imposing sanctions against Venezuelan officials who allegedly participated in human rights abuses. He also declared the country a threat to US national security.
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of US financial systems,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.
In response, Maduro has accused the US of trying to “defeat” and “intervene in” his government.
“President Barack Obama, representing the US imperialist elite, has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it,” Maduro said in a national TV address. “That’s why they have taken today’s measure.”
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) rejected Washington’s move on Saturday.
Relations between Washington and Caracas have been tense since Venezuela’s iconic former leader, Hugo Chavez, came to power in 2000. The two have not had full diplomatic representation since 2008.
One of the most recent escalations was Maduro announcing a new mandatory visa requirement for all Americans visiting the country on March 1. He said the move was a reciprocal measure to what “a Venezuelan pays to travel to the US.”
Maduro has also been asking his government to review and reduce the number of US diplomatic staff in the country, following allegations of “conspiratorial meetings” against Venezuela.
In February, Maduro accused the US of being behind the attempted coup in Venezuela, pointing to US Vice President Joe Biden as the mastermind.
“The northern imperial power has entered a dangerous phase of desperation, going to talk to the continent’s governments to announce the overthrow of my government. And I accuse Vice President Joe Biden of this,” Maduro said.
The Venezuelan government had been with dealing with massive unrest amid protests called by opposition leaders. The US has accused Maduro’s government of heavy-handedly quelling the opposition. In turn, Maduro last month announced that Venezuela successfully defeated the alleged US-sponsored coup, adding that an attack on the presidential palace or another top target was planned.
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