CARACAS: President Nicolas Maduro ordered Venezuela’s military to hold exercises along the border with Colombia, accusing the neighboring nation’s president of plotting an attack as tensions mounted Tuesday between the two South American countries.
It was the latest salvo between Maduro and Colombian President Ivan Duque, who have accused each other in recent days of harboring militants.
“Columbia’s government doesn’t want peace,” Maduro told a class of officers in a nationally televised military ceremony. “It wants war. It wants violence.”
Friction escalated in recent days amid a protracted struggle between Maduro and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who seeks to oust the socialist president with backing from the United States, Colombia and more than 50 other nations.
Venezuela is locked in a crisis marked by hunger and mass migration, which critics blame on more than two decades of socialist mismanagement.
Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, says he is seeking to end Maduro’s “dictatorship” and argues his re-election in 2018 was a fraud.
Animosity between Colombia and Venezuela flared last week when the former chief negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced in a video that he would take up arms, alleging the Colombian government has failed to uphold a 2016 peace accord.
Duque and Guaidó — firm allies backed by the U.S. administration — both accused Maduro of harboring leftist guerrillas in Venezuela.
Addressing his soldiers Tuesday night, Maduro ordered Venezuela’s armed forces to be on alert and called for more than two weeks of maneuvers to start Sept. 10.
The announcement came hours after Guaidó said he has approved the use of satellites to hunt down guerrillas crossing into Venezuela from neighboring Colombia.
Collaboration has begun between Venezuela’s opposition and Colombian officials to collect intelligence on guerrilla camps and planes that Guaidó said they use to transport drugs. He offered no details, such as who would collect the satellite imagery.
“We’ve seen recordings of these groups showing off their weapons,” Guaidó said. “We’re facing a serious, serious problem of Venezuelan sovereignty.”
He urged Venezuela’s military to “immediately eject” the “terrorist groups” from Venezuelan territory.
Maduro, who remains in power with backing from the military and international allies including Cuba, Russia and China, considers Guaidó a puppet of the Trump administration.
Over the weekend, Maduro’s chief spokesman accused Duque of allowing three paramilitary training camps to operate in its territory with the aim of taking down Maduro, offering satellite images to support the allegations.