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Top US, Colombian Military Commanders Meet In Miami To Discuss Crisis In Venezuela

Fernando Llano
AP via Miami Herald

Top military commanders for the US and Colombia held a joint meeting in Miami on Wednesday to discuss regional cooperation. At the top of the agenda was the escalating humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, which is slated to ramp up this weekend.

The Trump Administration has repeatedly stated that “all options are on the table” in respect to the South American nation’s humanitarian crisis, brought about by record inflation and regular shortages of food and medicine. Those statements have led some to question whether military force might be used to oust the government of Venezuelan President Maduro. A US Military plane was flown into Colombia last weekend with humanitarian aid meant to enter into Venezuela, against the will of Maduro.

“This message is for the Venezuelan military: you will ultimately be held accountable for your actions,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command. SOUTHCOM heads US military operations in the Caribbean and most of Latin America. Faller urged the Venezuelan military not to block humanitarian aid from entering and to turn away from President Maduro.

“Do the right thing. Save your people and your country,” he said.

Faller met with Colombian Army Maj. Gen. Luis Navarro Jiménez, the leader of the Colombian Military Forces. The two made statements about the situation in Venezuela and took questions from reporters.

US-recognized Interim Venezuelan President Juan Gauidó has declared that a caravan of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans will help push over 100 tons of US-supplied humanitarian aid into the country on February 23. The parallel Maduro government has blocked access to a critical landbridge between Colombia and Venezuela, and has declared that the US is mobilizing for a military invasion of his country.

Asked if the US military is preparing for an invasion of Venezuela, Fuller referred to President Trump, who gave a major speech at Florida International University this week urging President Maduro to step down. Trump said anyone aiding the Maduro government “will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.” According to several reports, Trump has repeatedly asked top advisors if a military invasion of the country would be possible throughout the course of his presidency.

“The president has been quite clear, and our job as military professionals is to be ready,” said Fuller. He added: “The only invasion is the Cubans and the Russians that continue to prop up the dictator Maduro.”

Last week Fuller met with military officials in Brazil to discuss the situation, he said.

The prospect of the US military invading Venezuela -- even under a humanitarian mission -- has been met with skepticism in Washington.

“I don’t believe the United States military should be mobilized to go into Venezuela,” Democratic Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told WLRN in an interview during a recent visit to South Florida. “I don’t think the people of Venezuela want an American military or a military from any other country coming into their sovereign nation.”

Colombian Navarro Jiménez was asked about the potential of violence breaking out at the border this weekend, as Venezuelans try to push through humanitarian aid into the country against the will of the Maduro government.

“The Colombian armed forces, in coordination with other parts of the government, have logistics ready for any situation that puts the civilian population at risk,” he said.

“The job of the Colombian armed forces is to protect the civilian populations. We expect the Venezuelan armed forces will do the same,” said Navarro Jiménez.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.