LESS than a week after a botched assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a US Navy ship assigned to the Task Force Four Eight of the US Southern Command has arrived in TT. Its mission is to coach local coast guard officers in diving techniques and subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) exercises, Capt Brian Diebold said at a press conference yesterday.
Diebold, the commanding officer of the USS Gunston Hall, said the nature of the mission was purely to engage local forces in training as part of the annual Southern Seas and Southern Partnerships initiative, in which US Navy officers were dispatched to various territories in the Caribbean, South and Central America.
When asked about whether the US South Command was concerned over the situation in Venezuela, Diebold deferred the question to the US State Department, of which chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy John McIntyre is a representative.
McIntyre said the ship’s presence in TT was not motivated by the assassination attempt on Maduro and the Southern Seas programme was planned well in advance of that incident. “They (US Navy) are here on a strictly training basis to interact and develop ties with local defence force to improve our response capabilities during times of emergency and natural disaster,” McIntyre said.
“We are not here to engage in any type of surveillance with Venezuela. This exercise, much like Operation Fused Response earlier this year, was planned well in advance and we are looking forward to working with local divers.”
On Tuesday, leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) David Abdulah warned of a possible US military incursion into Venezuela and denounced the attempted assassination as an attack by right-wing forces with US imperialist support on the Bolivarian revolution.
In April, during a post-Cabinet press briefing, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley alluded to “persons” wanting Trinidad to invade Venezuela. Venezuelan media reports on Tuesday said the authorities have identified and arrested the two “masterminds” behind the assassination attempt.
One of the men had an open arrest warrant for his alleged role in the August 2017 attack on a military base in Valencia, Venezuela, and the other was previously arrested during anti-government protests in 2014. On Saturday, Maduro was delivering a speech at a military parade when a drone rigged with C-4 explosives flew towards him and detonated in the air near his face. He escaped the attack and was evacuated off-stage.
Newsday tried to contact Venezuelan Ambassador to TT Coromoto Godoy Calderon for comment yesterday but was unsuccessful.
Also speaking at the press conference was Commander Don Polo of the TT Coast Guard, who said TT had one of the best diving teams in the region and expressed optimism that the training would be mutually beneficial to both visitors and local officers.
The Gunston Hall is 609 feet long and equipped with two rolling airframe missile systems, six .50-calibre machine guns, two 20-mm Phalanx machine guns and two 25 mm MK-38 guns. It has a crew of 400. The ship, which was previously docked in Honduras, is expected to leave on August 11.
A June 20 release from the US Navy said Southern Sea is an “annual collaborative deployment” involving a variety of exercises and multinational exchanges. The initiative, it said, “seeks to enhance interoperability, increase regional stability, and build and maintain regional relationships with countries throughout the region through joint, multinational and interagency exchanges and co-operation.”