The Venezuelan government says the Latin American country is “ready” to defend itself against any foreign military intervention, after the United States invoked a regional defense treaty that might justify such a move.
“We are ready to protect ourselves, we are ready to react,” said Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza at a press conference after meeting in Geneva with UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Friday.
“We will let no one trample sacred Venezuelan soil, we will respond and hope that never happens,” he vowed.
Venezuela plunged into unprecedented political turmoil in January, when opposition figure Juan Guaido declared himself “interim president” of the country, rejecting the outcome of the May 2018 election, which President Nicolas Maduro won.
The highly controversial move received immediate recognition from Washington and soon after from a number of its allies.
The US-backed opposition accuses Maduro of “usurping power” and wants him to step down. Caracas rejects the allegation.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that Guaido’s request had invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) with 10 other Latin American countries to confront the “bellicose” moves by Maduro’s government, which “poses a threat to the Venezuelan people.”
Shortly after the release of Pompeo’s statement, Arreaza denounced the US move as the “shameful heritage of neocolonialism in Latin America,” pointing out that the TIAR had been drafted “to legitimize military interventions in Latin America for ideological reasons” during the Cold War.
The central principle of TIAR, which came into force in 1948, is that an attack against one of the member states is to be considered an attack against all of the signatories.
Washington invoked the TIAR a day after the Venezuelan army deployed 150,000 troops, tanks, and missile carriers around La Fria airport in the border state of Tachira, near the border of Colombia, on Tuesday.
Caracas said the deployment of forces was meant to carry out military drills along the border in an effort to prepare for any foreign invasion, amid rising tensions between Caracas and Bogota.
Colombian President Ivan Duque has ruled out an invasion of neighboring Venezuela, but recognizes Guaido as the legitimate president, following the US suit.
Elsewhere in his remarks on Friday, Arreaza again dismissed Guaido’s invoking of the TIAR as “illegal” and “dangerous” because “it suggests they have activated a mechanism to attack Venezuela.”
A US military contingent has already been deployed to the impoverished South American nation of Guyana for the first time in a decade in a bid for the Pentagon to beef up its regional influence in neighboring Venezuela and undermine growing Chinese and Russian presence in the region.
The White House, which has imposed several rounds of harsh sanctions against Caracas, has been pressuring for a transition in part by establishing a representative office called Washington’s Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU) based in Colombia to keep in touch with Guaido.
Venezuelans are suffering from a lack of basic necessities as a consequence of US sanctions. According to United Nations statistics, a quarter of Venezuela’s 30-million-strong population is in need of humanitarian aid.
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