President Nicolas Maduro said he is “not afraid of military combat,” accusing his US counterpart Donald Trump of plotting to invade Venezuela with the support of regional allies.
“We don’t want war; we don’t want violence; we don’t want terrorism, but we are not afraid of military combat and we are going to guarantee peace,” said Maduro in a televised speech, surrounded by the armed forces high command.
“Trump was convinced that it is easy to get into Venezuela,” said the socialist leader, accusing the US of having assembled a “mercenary force” to invade.
The US is one of more than 50 countries that have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president after Maduro’s 2018 re-election was widely denounced as rigged.
Maduro said there were groups of military “deserters” training in neighbouring Colombia to “enter silently and attack military units.” Military exercises were carried out over the weekend, Maduro added, in response to alleged attack plans orchestrated by the US, Colombia and Brazil.
According to official figures, some 2.4mn soldiers and members of the civilian militia were deployed throughout the country.
The practices were carried out “based on real threats, not imagined ones,” said Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino, who was seated next to Maduro during the president’s speech.
Trump vowed to “smash” Maduro’s rule in his annual State of the Union address to Congress, which was also attended by Guaido, earlier this month.
Trump branded Maduro a “tyrant” during his speech and called Guaido the “legitimate president of Venezuela.” After returning from a three-week international tour, Guaido said a change of government in his country was “inevitable.”
On Sunday, he said the military had the opportunity to make the change less “traumatic.”
Meanwhile Portugal yesterday condemned Venezuela’s decision to slap a three-month suspension on Portuguese airline TAP for allegedly allowing an uncle of opposition leader Juan Guaido to travel with explosives.
“All this is unacceptable, incomprehensible and intolerable,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese media.
Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, for his part, said: “It’s an unfriendly act against Portugal, a country that stands out for its balance and its ability to talk to everyone.” Venezuela said on Monday it has suspended operations of Portugal’s flagship airline to and from Venezuela, accusing it of allowing Guaido’s uncle Juan Marquez to carry explosives aboard a TAP plane, hiding them in his luggage.
Marquez was arrested upon arriving in Caracas from Lisbon with Guaido last week after a trip to the US and Europe.
Announcing the suspension of TAP for “serious irregularities”, Venezuelan Transport Minister Hipolito Abreu said it could become a permanent ban.
Top Maduro ally Diosdado Cabello said Marquez was detained for allegedly carrying C-4 explosives hidden inside flashlights and perfume refills, and was wearing a bulletproof vest. Cabello accused TAP of violating international norms by allowing Marquez “to import explosives”. Maduro’s government also accuses TAP of hiding Guaido’s name from the official passenger manifest and using a false identity for him.
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