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Venezuela accuses US of deflecting attention from humanitarian crisis by sending war ships to region

VENEZUELA has accused Washington of using the deployment of warships to the region as a smokescreen to deflect attention from the “tragic humanitarian crisis” unfolding in the United States due to the corornavirus outbreak.

Foreign Minister Jorge Rodriguez made the charge after US President Donald Trump announced the move, ostensibly as part of operations to combat drug smuggling in the region.

The Trump administration increased pressure on Venezuela last week when it placed a $15 million (£11.9m) bounty on the head of democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro.

Without any supporting evidence, it claimed that Mr Moduro headed a violent drug cartel that was plotting to flood US streets with cocaine.

Mr Trump said:“ As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gains.

“We must not let that happen.”

But the claims were met with ridicule. The only country known to carry out clandestine drug-running operations in the region is the US, with the CIA having well-documented links to traffickers in Nicaragua and Colombia.

Mr Rodriguez hit back, calling the deployment of ships a “desperate attempt to distract attention from the tragic humanitarian crisis” in the US, where more than 5,000 people have died from coronavirus.

Mr Trump faces growing criticism over his poor handling of the pandemic as the country’s health system struggles to cope with the skyrocketing number of cases, which now stands at over 250,000.

Mr Rodriguez noted wryly that it was the first time in decades that the US had tried to limit the supply of cocaine from Colombia, one of its key allies in the region.

Mr Maduro told the Trump administration to stop meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs and called for a “humanitarian agreement” between all the political factions in his country to deal with the real issue — the fight against Covid-19.

Washington has long threatened to remove Mr Maduro “by any means necessary,” refusing to rule out military intervention.

Hapless Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido failed to appear in court today, after being summoned to answer questions over his involvement in an attempted coup against Mr Maduro’s Bolivarian government.

Mr Guaido’s no-show raises the prospect of him being arrested, but the US has insisted that it will not tolerate any harm coming to the pretender.

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