Venezuela's armed forces chiefs said on Tuesday that they had begun mobilizing 150,000 troops for military exercises on the Colombian border amid renewed tensions between Bogota and Caracas. President Nicolas Maduro ordered his army to deploy along the 2,200-kilometer border after accusing Colombia of plotting to spark a military conflict. Tanks, rocket launchers and scores of troops were deployed around La Fria airport in western Tachira state on Tuesday. Officials in Washington on Tuesday expressed unwavering support for Colombia during this patch of rocky relations with Venezuela.
This is at least the fourth time so far this year that Maduro has ordered his troops to be deployed on exercises. In one, Maduro was shown on state TV acting as commander in chief, riding in tanks and jogging in formation with soldiers. This display was seen as Maduro flexing his military muscle in response to the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who urged soldiers to abandon Maduro and join the opposition movement to start fresh with new presidential elections.
Tensions spiked recently when Colombia and Venezuela both accused each other of harboring hostile armed groups within their borders that are trying to overthrow the neighboring government. Maduro accused Colombia last week of using the rejection by dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leaders of a peace accord to try to provoke a military conflict and said he was placing his forces on high alert. Colombia's right-wing President Ivan Duque had accused Maduro of sheltering FARC dissidents on his territory. In response, Maduro put soldiers on alert and summoned his defense council, saying the machinery of war has started against Venezuela. "The moment has come to defend our sovereignty and national peace by deploying our defense resources in full force," Maduro said on Twitter.