World

Venezuela starts military exercises along Colombia border amid rising tensions with Bogota

AP

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro launched extended military exercises along the border with Colombia on Tuesday, drawing Washington’s attention amid rising friction between the South American neighbors.

Maduro has come under mounting pressure from Colombia and the United States among more than 50 nations that back opposition politician Juan Guaido’s bid to oust the socialist leader saying bogus elections in 2018 returned him to power.

Tensions spiked recently when Colombia and Venezuela accused each other of harboring hostile forces within their borders trying to overthrow the neighboring government. Maduro put soldiers on alert and summoned his defense council, saying the machinery of war has started against Venezuela.

“The moment has come to defend our sovereignty and national peace by deploying our defense resources in full force,” Maduro said on Twitter without offering details of the troop movements expected to last through Sept. 28.

Officials in Washington on Tuesday expressed unwavering support for Colombia during this patch of rocky relations with Venezuela — two countries linked by a shared history and a border stretching nearly 1,367-mile (2,200-km).

Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, said it was “totally unacceptable” that Maduro’s “illegitimate government” has threatened the region’s security and peace.

“Colombia’s allies will do everything possible to help one of the best allies we’ve had — not only in the Americas but in the world,” Trujillo added during a conference call with reporters.

U.S. special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams was even more direct.

“If there are cross-border attacks from Venezuela to Colombia, we can expect Colombians to react,” Abrams said. “And obviously, we would fully support Colombia in that situation.”

Colombian authorities estimate as many as 1,000 National Liberation Army rebels — or around 40% of the group’s fighting force — operate from Venezuela, where they plan attacks like the January car bombing at a Bogota police academy that killed more than 20 mostly young cadets.

For its part, Venezuela’s socialist government accuses Colombian President Ivan Duque of what it called paramilitary training camps in neighboring Colombia to plot violent attacks to undermine Maduro.

This is at least the fourth time so far this year that Maduro has ordered his troops deployed in exercises. In one, Maduro was shown on state TV acting as commander-in-chief, riding in tanks and jogging in formation with soldiers.

This display was seen as Maduro flexing his military muscle in response to Guaido, who urged soldiers to abandon Maduro and join the opposition’s movement to start fresh with new presidential elections.

Maduro has maintained support from the military, with the exception of several hundred troops. He’s also backed internationally by allies such as Cuba, China and Russia.

Colombian President Duque has said Venezuela should spend its money on food, not missiles.

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