President Hugo Chavez said he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept a US military plane that twice entered Venezuelan skies last week, but Washington said none of its planes flew over the South American country’s airspace.
Brandishing a photo of the plane, which he described as a P-3, Chavez said the overflight was the latest violation of Venezuelan airspace by the US military from its bases on the Netherlands’ Caribbean islands and from neighbouring Colombia.
“They are provoking us these are warplanes,” he said.
Chavez said the F-16s escorted the US plane away after two incursions lasting 15 and 19 minutes each.
A spokesperson for the US Defense Department denied Chavez’s assertion, saying in an e-mail: “We can confirm no US military aircraft entered Venezuelan airspace today. As a matter of policy we do not fly over a nation’s airspace without prior consent or coordination.”
Senior Obama administration officials said the US Southern Command was unaware of any incident involving US government aircraft in Venezuelan airspace last Friday.
The perceived threat of US intervention has become a central element of Chavez’s political discourse and a rallying cry for his supporters.
Foes say Latin America’s loudest US critic is hyping the idea of a foreign threat to distract Venezuelans from domestic problems such as economic recession, rampant crime and inadequate public services.
The socialist leader surprised the diplomatic world in December when he accused the Netherlands of abetting potential offensive action against his government by granting US troops access to its islands close to Venezuela.
The Dutch government says the US presence on Curacao and Aruba where about 250 Air Force crew and ground staff are based is only for counternarcotics and surveillance operations over Caribbean smuggling routes.
Pic: f-16 fighter jet