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The US Southern Command said on Tuesday that the American Navy missile destroyer USS Nitze had completed a “freedom of navigation” assignment near Venezuela’s coast. Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino has issued a warning to the US Navy to avoid carrying out missions near Venezuela’s territorial waters.
During a military meeting in the northern state of Carabobo on Wednesday, Mr Padrino said: “A US Navy destroyer approached within 30 miles [48 kilometres] of the coast, in a clear act of provocation.
“It cannot be termed otherwise […] it is a clear defiant act.”
In addition, he warned that if the US battleship carried out “military operations” in Venezuelan waters, it “will receive a forceful response from our armed forces”.
The warning came after the US Southern Command issues a press release on Tuesday stating that the US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Nitze “conducted a freedom of navigation operation […] in international waters outside Venezuela’s 12 nautical-mile territorial jurisdiction”.
US Navy and Coast Guard warship are currently completing tasks in the Caribbean “as part of the president [Trump]’s enhanced counter-narcotics operation,” according to the press release.
The same anti-drug operation was referred to by the US Air Force (USAF) last week.
The force deployed two surveillance aircraft to a base situated a few dozen miles off Venezuelan shore.
Beforehand, the US had branded several top Venezuelan leaders, including President Maduro, as “narco-terrorists”.
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Washington also filed federal warrants against them, with multi-million bounties for their arrest.
Mr Maduro rebutted the claims, adding that the US “laid new false charges” and that “Venezuela has been at the forefront of the fight against illegal drug trafficking for 15 years”.
The US anti-drugs operations come after its purported “maximum pressure” on Mr Maduro’s failed to frustrate a shipment of Iranian fuel entering Venezuela late last month.
The shipment was met by a US-imposed sanction on five Iranian tanker captains.
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The ships transported an estimated 1.5 million barrels’ worth of gasoline to the South American country.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza branded the actions as “an outburst of arrogance”.
According to Mr Arreaza, the penalties show “more evidence of the Trump hawks’ hatred of all Venezuelans”.
Washington imposed harsh economic sanctions on Venezuela in its efforts to oust President Maduro.
Some of the US’ penalties included the freezing of US-based assets of the national oil and gas company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
The move was criticised by Venezuela as being illegitimate and Washington’s bid to clasp Venezuela’s oil reserves.
On Monday, Trump vowed to never meet with Nicolás Maduro unless it was only to talk about Mr Maduro resigning.
“Unlike the radical left, I will ALWAYS stand against socialism and with the people of Venezuela,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“My Admin has always stood on the side of FREEDOM and LIBERTY and against the oppressive Maduro regime!
“I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!”
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