Caracas says the presence of these vessels may be part of “unannounced routine manoeuvres”
While Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez attends to the inauguration ceremony of Uruguay’s leftist leader, Tabare Vazquez, in Montevideo, his Armed Forces are closely watching the unexpected presence of several US battleships near country's western coastline. On Monday, Venezuela's Navy commander, Armando Laguna, made the announcement during an interview on state TV but opted not to accuse Washington directly of any provocation.
Laguna said that the Venezuelan Navy detected several foreign vessels 75 kilometers northeast of the Paraguanб Peninsula in western Venezuela. According to Laguna, the presence of U.S. military ships near Venezuela is part of their "routine manoeuvres", and told people not to be alarmed. What, in fact, concerned Venezuelan officials is that Washington did not announce the manoeuvre as it has traditionally been doing it.
"The situation is within normal and legal parameters. However, these operations were not notified to our government. We detected them and took our precautions to determine their intentions, but they are always performing manoeuvres [exercises] in the Minor Antilles," Laguna was quoted as saying by alternative Venezuelan media.
The incident came shortly after President Chavez made public intelligence reports about an alleged US plot to kill him. Washington replied allegations were ungrounded, but Chavez ratified them soon after.
Since then, Venezuelan alternative media published that “a wave of rumours of an ‘imminent U.S. invasion’ started circulating through several cities”. “Rumours of a new coup, calls to buy food, to ‘prepare to fight’, and questions about President Hugo Chavez's whereabouts, circulated widely via cell phone text messages and email”.
Presidents Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush are expected to see each other at the next Summit of the Americas, scheduled for November, in Argentina’s resort of Mar del Plata. Judging by current developments, a bilateral meeting looks more than improbable.
Photo: U.S. military ship anchored off the coast of Curacao captured by an amateur photographer.