GARCIA DE HEVIA, Venezuela – Venezuela began conducting military exercises on Tuesday by deploying troops and weapons on the border with Colombia amid escalating tensions with its western neighbor, although no combat actions were executed nor was a single bullet fired.
EFE found that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) deployed anti-aircraft batteries, armored vehicles, mobile rocket launchers and a helicopter at the start of the war games, which were ordered by leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro last week.
In addition, an army source told reporters that at least 150,000 military and police troops had been deployed at the border, without specifying which units they belonged to or whether all of them were set to take part in the drills.
Several of these troops are part of the so-called militia, a body which the government says has two million members, though military expert Rocio San Miguel claimed that no more than 20,000 of them could be considered effective and well-trained fighters.
The chief of the FANB’s Operational Strategic Command, Remigio Ceballos, led the first day of the exercises and said that Venezuela has “friends around the world,” alluding to the opposition’s accusations regarding the alleged presence of Russian and Cuban military advisers.
Maduro said at nightfall that “the entire armed forces are activated” for these exercises following his declaration of an orange alert to counter the threat of invasion he said was posed by Colombia.
Maduro added that he wasn’t threatening anyone, but Venezuela was ready to defend itself with weapons if necessary.
But the speaker of the National Assembly and leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido – who has been recognized as the country’s interim president by more than 50 nations – accused Maduro of attempting to distract the public by ramping up tensions with Colombia to shift attention away from Venezuela’s ongoing institutional crisis.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, Francisco Sucre, told reporters that soldiers were suffering the consequences of the South American country’s devastating economic crisis with an alleged average salary of just under $5 per month.
One of Venezuela’s main military resources is its air power, as it possesses at least 20 operational units of the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 fighter bomber, whose characteristics are considered similar to those of the United States’ F-15E Strike Eagle.
The Venezuelan government purchased these aircraft after strengthening its ties with Russia and denouncing the “imperialism” of the US, its former weapons supplier.
Meanwhile, on the Colombian side of the border, there were no signs of any special activity or military buildup in response to Venezuela’s exercises.
Colombia’s presidential advisor on human rights and international affairs, Francisco Barbosa, had said on Monday that the country was on “maximum alert,” while the country’s vice president, Marta Lucia Ramirez, said Colombia would not fall for its neighbor’s “provocations.”
Colombian President Ivan Duque denounced Maduro’s “bravado” and accused the Venezuelan leader of aiding and abetting members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla, as well as former commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) militia that had re-taken up arms against the government after abandoning the 2016 peace process.
Relations between Colombia and Venezuela have been severely strained since February; the 2,219-kilometer-long (1,379-mile-long) border has been the scene of constant tensions that have nevertheless failed to escalate into a military confrontation so far.