Cuba says U.S. moving special forces, preparing Venezuelan intervention

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Thursday the United States was moving special forces closer to Venezuela as part of a covert plan to intervene in the chaotic South American country using the pretext of a humanitarian crisis.

General view of opposition supporters taking part in a rally to commemorate the Day of the Youth and to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro

A “Declaration of the Revolutionary Government” alleged that recent events in Venezuela amounted to an attempted coup that had so far failed.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and hand over power to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly.

Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.

These events, the declaration said, had led the United States to impose drastic sanctions causing damage “1,000 times greater” than the aid it is trying to force on the country.

“Between February 6 and 10 military transport aircraft have flown to the Rafael Miranda Airport of Puerto Rico, the San Isidro Air Base, in the Dominican Republic and to other strategically located Caribbean islands, probably without knowledge of the governments of those nations,” the declaration said.

“These flights originated in American military installations from which units of Special Operations and Marine Corps operate, which are used for covert actions,” it said.

U.S. special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, said “it is a new lie.”

The Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas, in a statement issued from Italy where he is accompanying the country’s president, said no U.S. military transport planes had landed in his country. He also reiterated his government’s support for a peaceful solution to the Venezuelan crisis.

Venezuela, a major oil producer, is in the throes of a severe economic crisis with a dramatic drop in output and six-digit inflation wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of residents, sending an estimated 3 million of them seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the Bolivarian Revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998.

Most Western and Latin American countries, including the United States, quickly recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state and pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian aid in support. The aid has begun arriving along the border with Colombia and Brazil.

Maduro’s socialist government retains the backing of Russia, China and many other nations, as well as control of state institutions including the military.

Guaido said on Tuesday the aid would roll across the border on Feb. 23 despite the Maduro government’s objections, setting up a possible confrontation.

Cuba said on Thursday it was clear the United States wanted to “forcibly establish a humanitarian corridor under international protection, invoking the obligation to protect civilians and applying all necessary measures.”

Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown