The US Southern Command announced in a statement on Tuesday that the missile destroyer Nitze had conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation in the vicinity of Venezuela’s coast.
The Southern Command claimed that the vessel had sailed in an area outside of Venezuela’s territorial waters.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino seemed to counter that claim on Wednesday.
“A US Navy destroyer approached within 30 miles of the coast, in a clear act of provocation. It cannot be termed otherwise… it is a clear defiant act,” Padrino said during a military ceremony in the northern Carabobo State.
He warned that if the destroyer ventured to conduct “military operations” in Venezuelan waters “it will receive a forceful response from our Armed Forces.”
The US Navy sailed the vessel near Venezuela after an Iranian cargo ship arrived in the country. Earlier, five Iranian tankers had delivered much-needed fuel to Venezuela, defying US sanctions and pressure.
The US administration has been attempting to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, including with harsh sanctions on the country’s oil industry. Washington has also threatened military force.
Last month, a group of mercenaries attempted to intrude into the northern Venezuelan state of La Guaira on speedboats in a gung-ho operation to kidnap Maduro. Venezuela’s military foiled that attack, killing eight of the armed men and arresting several others, including two US citizens.
The contract under which the mercenaries carried out the attack bore the signature of Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido, who plunged the country into political turmoil after he unilaterally declared himself “interim president” of Venezuela in January last year.
Guaido, with Washington’s assistance and receiving help from a small number of rogue soldiers, later launched a botched putsch against the elected government.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has so far imposed several rounds of sanctions against Venezuela.