FILE PHOTO: USS Nitze, a Guided Missile Destroyer is pictured in New York Harbor, May 24, 2006. REUTERS / Peter Foley / File Photo / File Photo
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino on Wednesday called an incident this week in which a United States Navy ship sailed near the coast of the South American country as an “act of provocation.”
The US Army’s Southern Command said Tuesday that the Nitze missile destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation off the coast of Venezuela. The Southern Command said that the vessel sailed in an area outside Venezuela’s territorial waters, which extend about 12 nautical miles from its coasts, but within an area that the Venezuelan government “falsely claims to be in control.”
Godfather said that Venezuela “was not offended” by the act of the country’s lifelong enemy. The United States imposed sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil sector as part of its effort to overthrow socialist President Nicolás Maduro, who oversaw an economic collapse, and Washington accused him of corruption and human rights violations.
“It is an empty victory,” Padrino said in a speech broadcast on state television, adding that the ship reached 30 miles off the Venezuelan coast. “It is a childish act.”
In a statement, U.S. Army Colonel and Southern Command spokeswoman Amanda Azubuike said the Navy’s freedom of navigation operations were aimed at preserving maritime navigation and access rights worldwide.
“This region is no different, and we will continue to exercise our right to challenge excessive claims,” said Azubuike.
Washington’s campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure has failed to force Maduro to leave power. While President Donald Trump has stated that “all options are on the table” to eliminate it, US officials have made it clear that there is little appetite for military force.
Godfather said that any US military ship that enters Venezuela’s territorial waters will receive an “overwhelming” response from the South American country’s armed forces.
Report by Mayela Armas; Written by Luc Cohen; Rosalba O’Brien and Alistair Bell edition