The United States Southern Command (Southcom), which is based in Florida, has begun a series of military exercises titled “Fused Response” in Trinidad and Tobago. The drills, which are expected to run from April 16 – 26, will occur just a few miles off Venezuela's coast and are said to simulate “realistic scenarios that test regional stability and challenge the skills of participants.”
The Unit, which is responsible for contingency planning and military operations, in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, has hosted similar drills annually in Barbados and other parts of the Caribbean for several years. This year, however, marks the first time in several years that the exercises have occurred so close to Venezuela's shores since Trinidad and Tobago is situated just ten miles away from Venezuela's eastern coast.
The purpose of the exercise is “aimed at strengthening relationships, building capacity and expanding cooperation among participating defense and security forces” Southcom noted in a statement. The military drills will also focus on improving "the readiness and interoperability of U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago services to respond to security challenges" according to a release from the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago said.
The announcement of the series of exercises comes just days after John Bolton and Mike Pompeo were added as senior members of the U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, has been described by several senior U.S officials as having "always emphasized how Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua have undermined U.S. interests throughout the region."
"He's a warmonger, and Latin Americans get nervous when American presidents tend to lean toward military versus diplomatic solutions," a National Security Council official for former President Barack Obama told the Miami Herald. "It's a militaristic style that won't go down well in Latin America."
Days before it was announced that Bolton would replace Herbert Raymond McMaster as Trump's national security advisor, Venezuela's Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez warned new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to avoid repeating his predecessor's mistakes of insinuating a military coup in Venezuela.
"If Mike Pompeo comes with the same policy that (former Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson initiated, with the same line of attack – of aggression – against sovereignty, against a population and its armed forces, he will again be faced with a wall," Padrino said.
"There cannot be a military coup here: we are in the middle of the 21st century; I need to say this to whoever talks about a military coup that we are in 2018… A military coup? This is part of the past."
Last year, Trump said he would not rule out a “military option” when dealing the Venezuelan government.
Last week, Washington imposed sanctions on four more Venezuelan officials, as well as barred U.S. citizens from buying Petros, Venezuela's new cryptocurrency.
The South American country has routinely accused Washington of planning to orchestrate a coup or invasion in the past, and the appointment of Bolton and Pompeo given their past statements go a long way to supporting these claims.