|U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, talking to the press.|
Caracas, Venezuela, March 4th, 2005—The US Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, lamented a “lack of communication” between the Venezuelan and US governments regarding the presence of the USS Sapain off the coast of Venezuela, in a statement to Venezuelan radio yesterday. The US navy vessel arrived at the island of Curacao on February 27th, and left Wednesday afternoon, said Brownfield.
On Monday, Venezuelan press reported the arrival of one thousand marines, Harrier aircraft, Super Cobra, Sea King and Sea State helicopters, as well as amphibious vehicles in Curacao and Aruba. Since the closure of Howard Air Force base in Panama in 1999, the United States has relocated to three “Forward Operating Locations” (FOLs), situated in El Salvador, Ecuador, and Curacao-Aruba-Dutch Antilles. Curacao, where the USS Sapain made port, is just 40 miles off Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, while Aruba is only 15 miles off Venezuela’s Paraguaná peninsula, in the North-Western state of Falcón.
“What I most regret of this,” said Ambassador Brownfield, “was the lack of communication between the Armed Forces of Venezuela and the United States.” “I regret that I have not yet had the pleasure to meet and speak with the Minister of Defense or the commander of the Armed Forces or any other functionary of the Venezuelan Armed Forces,” he continued, noting “if I had spoken with them I’d have told them the date of the arrival of the [USS Sapain] and its departure date, the fact that the 1,500 marines were not onboard because they are in Iraq.” “The truth is,” Brownfield added, “it is our desire to have more visits by ships to Curacao and Aruba over the coming weeks, months and years.”
In an interview with state television on Monday, Venezuelan Navy Commander Armando Laguna, stated that the US presence was a part of “routine maneuvers,” and told people not to be alarmed. “The situation is within normal and legal parameters,” said Laguna, though he added that the United States did not announce the presence as they have in the past.
Also, the President of Venezuela's National Assembly, Nicolas Maduro, visited Curacao on Friday, to meet with its leaders. Following his meeting, Maduro said that the President and the Vice-Premier assured him that Curacao is an island of peace and would never allow the US to launch a military strike against Venezuela from the island.
Relations between the US and Venezuela have deteriorated in 2005. The kidnapping and arrest of a Colombian guerilla leader in Venezuela sparked a brief, but tense stand-off between Venezuela and Colombia, with the US siding clearly with the latter. Though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe met and successfully resolved the conflict, the US continued to express concern over Venezuela’s alleged relationship with Colombian guerillas.