Venezuela says troops will remain in place until British warship leaves waters off Guyana

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Venezuela said Saturday it will continue to deploy nearly 6,000 troops until a British warship sent to neighboring Guyana leaves waters off the coast of the two South American nations.

In a video posted on X, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino appears surrounded by military officers in front of a marked map of Venezuela and Guyana, a former British colony.

Paddino said the force was “protecting our national sovereignty”.

“The armed forces are deployed not only in the eastern part of the country, but throughout the territory,” he said. “They will be there until this British imperialist boat leaves the disputed waters between Venezuela and Guyana.”

The Department of Defense confirmed to The Associated Press that the video was taken at a military base in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.

The video comes after weeks of tension between the two countries over Venezuela’s renewed claim to a region in Guyana known as Essequibo, a sparsely populated tract of land roughly the size of Florida that is rich in oil and minerals. The operations generate about $1 billion a year for the impoverished country of nearly 800,000 people, whose economy expanded nearly 60 percent in the first half of this year.

Venezuela has long claimed it was cheated out of territory when the Europeans and the US drew the border. Guyana, which has controlled the area for decades, says the original agreement was legally binding and the dispute should be settled by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands.

The age-old dispute was recently revived with oil discovery in Guyana and escalated after Venezuela reported that its citizens had voted in a Dec. 3 referendum on claims for Essequibo, which makes up two-thirds of its smaller neighbor.

Critics of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro say the socialist leader is using the tension to divert attention from domestic turmoil and stoke nationalism ahead of next year’s presidential election.

In recent weeks, the leaders of Guyana and Venezuela they promised in a tense meeting that neither side would use threats or force against the other, but failed to reach an agreement on how to handle the bitter dispute.

Tensions reached a new high with the arrival in Guyana on Friday of the Royal Navy patrol vessel HMS Trent, which officials said was involved in an anti-drug smuggling operation in the Caribbean off the coast of Guyana. Most recently used to intercept pirates and drug smugglers off Africa, the ship is equipped with cannons and a landing pad for helicopters and drones, and can carry about 50 marines.

Maduro said the ship’s deployment violated the fragile agreement between Venezuela and Guyana, calling its presence a threat to his country. In response, Maduro ordered Venezuela’s military – including its air force and navy – to conduct exercises near the disputed area.

“We believe in diplomacy, in dialogue and in peace, but no one will threaten Venezuela,” Maduro said. “This is an unacceptable threat to any sovereign state in Latin America.

Guyana’s government rejected Maduro’s claims, with officials saying the visit was a planned activity aimed at improving the nation’s defense capabilities and that the ship’s visit would go ahead as scheduled.

During talks earlier in December, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali said his nation reserved the right to work with partners to ensure his country’s defense. Guyana has an army of just 3,000 soldiers, 200 sailors and four small patrol boats known as Barracudas, while Venezuela has about 235,000 active military personnel in the Army, Air Force, Navy and National Guard.

“Nothing we do or have done threatens Venezuela,” Guyana’s Vice President Bharat Jagdeo told reporters in Georgetown, the nation’s capital.

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