By Melissa Leon
Adm. Craig Faller, who heads the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) based in Florida, said Tuesday that the Navy must “remain on the balls of our feet” when it comes to the situation in Venezuela, which has been facing a humanitarian crisis amid a fight for control of the country.
“I won’t speak to details of what we’re planning and what we’re doing, but we remain ready to implement policy decisions and we remain on the balls of our feet,” Faller said in Rio de Janeiro as the U.S. started a multination maritime exercise there, AFP reported.
“The United States Navy is the most powerful navy in the world. If a policy decision is made to deploy the Navy, I’m convinced that we’ll be able to do what needs to be done,” he added.
U.S. Navy and Marine forces, as well as military personnel from 12 other Latin American and Caribbean countries, are taking part in UNITAS, a maritime exercise to improve operations and strengthen relationships. The annual drill is being conducted off the coast of Brazil until Aug. 30, AFP said.
This year, the exercise should send a message to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Faller noted.
“[It] sends a message to Maduro and other partners that don’t share the same values,” he said. “Naval exercises send a message to the world of what democracies that work together can do across a range of complex threats.”
“The U.S. government[‘s] focus continues to be to place focused and targeted pressure on an illegitimate regime to ensure there’s a transition to a legitimate, democratic government. Part of that focus is to ensure that the right humanitarian assistance is allowed to get to the people who need it,” Faller said.
Maduro has served as president of Venezuela since 2013, but this past January, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president and swore himself in, attempting to oust Maduro. The U.S. and more than four dozen other countries recognize Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela.
Maduro, who has described humanitarian aid as an “invasion” of the country, has had the support of Russia, China and Cuba, among others. Russia has vowed to send naval ships to Venezuela in a show of support to the socialist regime, Newsweek reported on Thursday.
President Trump has warned against Maduro’s repression, tweeting this past February, “I ask every member of the Maduro regime: End this nightmare of poverty, hunger and death. LET YOUR PEOPLE GO. Set your country free! Now is the time for all Venezuelan Patriots to act together, as one united people. Nothing could be better for the future of Venezuela!”
Earlier this month, the Trump administration implemented a freeze on the Maduro regime’s assets in the U.S., stopping short of putting a full economic embargo on the country.
When Faller was asked this week how Maduro might respond to the military drills, he said, “I don’t know how Maduro looks at anything.”