Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro warned, once again, that Washington, Colombia and others are pursuing plans to topple his administration and take over the oil-rich but economically hobbled nation.
During a press conference Wednesday, Maduro claimed that 734 Colombian and Venezuelan “mercenaries” were training in northern Colombia to prepare for military incursions and “false flag” attacks. He also said that “special forces” troops were training at Eglin Air Force Base in northern Florida to carry out “surgical strikes” aimed at Venezuelan naval and air force bases.
The military preparations are part of a broader plot, he said, that also includes coordinated media attacks.
“There’s an incessant and permanent campaign of infamy,” Maduro said. “They deny our democracy and create the conditions to justify actions that are being promoted by the United States.”
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Maduro, 56, accused U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton of being the mastermind behind the destabilization plots, and said the diplomat had met with Brazilian officials in November to discuss military acts along Venezuela’s southern border.
Washington officials often talk about the need for peaceful regime change in Venezuela, even as the threat of military intervention hangs in the air. Last year, in an off-the-cuff comment that rattled the region, President Donald Trump said a military option for Venezuela was “not off the table.”
A year after those comments, a drone exploded at a military parade that Maduro was presiding over in Caracas — an apparent attempt on his life. On Wednesday, Maduro reiterated that the assassination plot had been planned in Colombia “on direct orders from the White House.”
“I have no doubt that the White House authorized the drone against Nicolás Maduro,” he said. “And the same person who authorized that drone and the assassination is now protecting the intellectual authors, who are living protected in Miami.”
“I have asked the [U.S.] embassy to hand them over,” he said. “The answer has been a complicit silence.”
Colombia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday called Maduro’s accusations “disrespectful lies” and said it strictly abides by the “norms of international law.”
The fresh round of accusations come as Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) swept municipal elections on Sunday amid an opposition boycott and a weak turnout. They also come as he’s set to start a new six-year term on Jan. 10 that the United States and more than three dozen other countries have said they will not recognize.
Washington and Caracas haven’t exchanged ambassadors since 2010, and on Wednesday Maduro hinted relations could get even worse. He said he’d ordered Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to call in the chargé of the U.S. Embassy James Story and tell him to quit interfering in Venezuelan domestic issues.
“If he crosses the line, then he’s out,” Maduro said. “In Venezuela we will not allow anyone to meddle in Venezuelan affairs.”
Once one of the wealthiest nations in South America, Venezuela has been throttled by hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and a tanking economy, and more than 3 million people have fled the country in recent years.
On Monday, two nuclear-capable Russian bombers arrived in Venezuela for what the government described as routine exercises. But analysts said the government is also trying to project strength and signal that it still has well-armed allies and that it’s not completely isolated internationally.
As he spoke to a room filled with his cabinet and a few journalists, Maduro railed against those who try to portray Venezuela as a failed state.
“We’re not ghosts and we’re not zombies, we are very much alive,” he said. “Venezuela does not kneel. Venezuela does not give up.”