BOGOTA, Colombia — President Nicolás Maduro ordered Venezuelan armed forces to conduct defensive exercises in the eastern Caribbean after the United Kingdom sent a warship to Guyana’s territorial waters as the South American neighbors squabble a vast border region.
In a televised speech Thursday, Maduro said 6,000 Venezuelan troops, including air and naval forces, would carry out joint operations off the country’s east coast, near the border with Guyana.
Maduro described the imminent arrival of the British ship HMS Trent on the coast of Guyana as a “threat” to his country. He argued that the ship’s deployment violated a recent agreement between South American nations.
“We believe in diplomacy, dialogue and peace, but no one will threaten Venezuela,” Maduro said in a room where he was accompanied by a dozen military commanders. “This is an unacceptable threat to any sovereign country in Latin America.”
Venezuela relaunches its historic claim to a disputed region
Venezuela and Guyana are currently embroiled in a border conflict over the Essequibo, a sparsely populated region the size of Florida with vast oil deposits off its coast.
The region has been under Guyana’s control for decades, but in December Venezuela revived its historic claim to Essequibo through a referendum in which it asked the country’s voters whether Essequibo should become a state Venezuelan.
As tensions in the region intensified, the leaders of the two countries met on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and signed an agreement stating that they would resolve their dispute by non-violent means.
However, during the negotiations, Guyanese President Irfan Ali declared that his country reserved the right to work with its partners to ensure the defense of his country.
Guyanese officials on Thursday described the HMS Trent visit as a planned activity aimed at improving the country’s defense capabilities and said the ship’s visit would continue as planned.
“Nothing we are doing or have done threatens Venezuela,” Guyana’s Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo told reporters in Georgetown, the nation’s capital.
British ship to conduct joint operations with Guyanese forces
HMS Trent is a patrol and rescue vessel which has recently been used to intercept drug traffickers off the west coast of Africa. It can accommodate up to 30 sailors and a contingent of 18 marines, and is equipped with 30mm cannons and a landing pad for helicopters and drones.
The ship was sent to Barbados in early December to intercept drug traffickers, but its mission was changed on December 24, when it was sent to Guyana. Authorities have not said when it is expected to arrive off the coast of Guyana.
The British Ministry of Defense said the ship would conduct joint operations with the Guyana Defense Force.
The nation of 800,000 has a small army of 3,000 soldiers, 200 sailors and four small patrol boats known as Barracudas.
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