Washington slaps seven officials with sanctions as US president signs executive order calling Caracas a security threat.
Nearly 100,000 members of the Venezuelan armed forces have begun conducting exercises across the Latin American country amid worsening relations with the US.
Soldiers rolled out shoulder-fired missiles, fighter planes and armored trucks on Saturday for the first of 10 days of military exercises that the president of socialist-governed Venezuela said were needed to protect against a looming threat from the US.
The US imposed sanctions earlier this week on several Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations, and President Nicolas Maduro has said his country will take steps to protect itself from a hostile US government.
Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez inaugurated the exercises at Fort Tiuna in Caracas, the largest military installation in Venezuela. He said US sanctions constitute “an imminent danger for us” and the armed forces must ready themselves to ensure the country’s independence.
Venezuelan sailors performed drills in the Caribbean while soldiers defended the oil-producing country’s biggest refinery from a simulated attack.
Thousands of civilians wearing the red shirts of the socialist revolution started by the late President Hugo Chavez 15 years ago paraded in a complementary exercise.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the 12-nation Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), meeting in Ecuador, have called US President Barack Obama’s executive order a threat to Venezuelan sovereignty and to the principle of nonintervention in other countries’ internal affairs.
They demanded Washington to revoke the decree.
Opposition leaders in Venezuela expressed doubt about the utility of the UNASUR meeting and called the military exercises an embossment, saying they underlined the increasing crackdown on dissent in a country where several political leaders have been jailed.