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Venezuela fears 'invasion' after US military chief visits Colombia

U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, talks with members of the Colombian military during a visit to Colombian military unit in Tumaco on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.

HELENA ESCORCIA, U.S. EMBASSY COLOMBIA

By JIM WYSS | Miami Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 13, 2018

Venezuela on Monday accused neighboring Colombia of planning a bombing campaign or a “military invasion” amid heightened tensions in the region and a mass exodus fueled by Venezuela’s collapsing economy.

“In Colombia, they are planning to revive eras that had ended in human history, like military bombing, a military invasion or the occupation, through blood and gunfire, of a peaceful country like Venezuela,” said Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, according to the state-run AVN news agency. “We will not allow it.”

Saab didn’t provide proof of his allegations, but other regional allies pointed to the weekend visit to Colombia by Adm. Kurt Tidd, head of U.S. Southern Command.

Tidd and Colombian Vice President Óscar Naranjo met in the troubled coastal city of Tumaco on Saturday. According to the vice president’s office, they met to review bilateral efforts to stem the flow of drugs from Colombia’s Pacific coast.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a staunch Caracas ally, however, called Tidd’s presence “suspicious.”

“Any imperialist military threat against our sister Venezuela, and our region, will be undone by the dignity, sovereignty and unity of our democratic countries,” Morales wrote on Twitter.

On Monday, the commander of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Alberto Mejía, suggested he had his hands too full with domestic issues to worry about Venezuela’s accusations.

“We have so many problems in our own country, and that’s what we are solely dedicated to and focused on,” he said at a press conference. “We’re only interested in the problems of the Colombian people.”

President Donald Trump last year alarmed Caracas — and, some argue, handed President Nicolás Maduro a propaganda gift — when he said he would not rule out a “military option” when dealing with Venezuela.

Speaking in Anzoátegui state on Monday, Saab underscored Trump’s warning.

“What did the people of Venezuela do to deserve to be bombed, like the president of the United States threatened?” he asked.

The tension comes as Venezuela is planning to hold presidential elections April 22 that the United States and its regional allies have said will not be free, fair or democratic. Polls show, and analysts suggest, that unless the opposition presents a united front, Maduro is likely to win an additional six-year term.

The statements also come as Venezuelan neighbors, including Colombia, Brazil and Guyana, have been tightening border controls in recent weeks to try to contain the flow of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants. As the country’s crude-dependent economy continues to collapse, Venezuela is buckling under food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation.

©2018 Miami Herald
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