Chavez says US warships threaten Venezuela and Cuba

Campaign News | Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Manoeuvres come as close as 15 miles off coast

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez, who accuses Washington of planning to invade Venezuela, said on Tuesday the recent deployment of US warships in the Caribbean Sea threatened his country and its ally Cuba.

Four US warships, including an aircraft carrier, and 6,500 sailors, are in a two-month deployment in the Caribbean Sea dubbed "Partnership of the Americas" by the US Navy.

"They are doing manoeuvres right here," Chavez told a student meeting in the country's west. "This is a threat, not just against us, against Venezuela, against Cuba."

Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of trying to oust him. US officials say the revolutionary and friend of Cuban President Fidel Castro threatens regional stability.

Chavez has created a civilian reserve to resist an assault.

The United States, a leading buyer of oil from Venezuela, the world's No. 5 exporter, has dismissed his invasion talk as a ridiculous invention aimed at stirring up his supporters.

At least one warship has come as close to Venezuela as the Dutch island of Aruba, about 15 miles off its coast.

The Florida-based US Southern Command has said the operations, which include visits to countries including Venezuela's neighboring US ally Colombia, focus on threats such as "narco-terrorism and human-trafficking."

Threatening US military manoeuvres in the Caribbean

Analysts say it could be an invasion rehearsal

THE United States is leading a series of military manoeuvrees in the Caribbean, with the participation of forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and countries in the hemisphere, except for Cuba and Venezuela, which could be in the sights of that show of force, Prensa Latina reports.

The nuclear aircraft carrier USS George Washington is leading the sea/air forces in the manoeuvres, dubbed "Operation Partnership of the Americas," and the strike group includes the guided-missile destroyer Stout and the guided-missile frigate Underwood, with about 6,500 sailors and - if necessary - two nuclear submarines.

The declared objective is supposedly to "foster goodwill" in military relations between the U.S. Navy and countries in the region, and to intensify efforts in the fight against drug-trafficking and terrorism.

With air reconnaissance flights, depth measurements and land analysis, the United States could be evaluating its possibilities of success for an invasion against a country in the area, regional analysts agree.

Some 4,000 soldiers from the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and France are to participate in manoeuvres dubbed "Joint Caribbean Lion" between May 23 and June 15 in Curacao and the French island of Guadeloupe.

The operation, which will have its main base in Hato Rey (known in Curaçao under the name "location for cooperative security") is believed to be among the largest in recent years, using an aircraft carrier and an impressive naval fleet.

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