Venezuela accused the United States of spying on a Non-Aligned Movement summit it recently hosted, saying Venezuelan fighter jets had intercepted a US surveillance plane and forced it to turn back. President Nicolas Maduro’s latest beef with Washington comes after Venezuela hosted leaders from the 120-member group on the Caribbean island of Margarita last weekend, a meeting that featured numerous jabs at US foreign policy.
“We know a military aircraft carried out flight patterns 130 nautical miles from Margarita island, collecting information, carrying out intelligence operations on the summit,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez Monday.
He said a US Coast Guard Dash 8 plane was detected near Venezuelan airspace on Friday and Saturday, “flagrantly violating international norms” by failing to announce itself to the Venezuelan military’s air traffick controllers.
“Our fighter jets, commanded by the president, flew out, intercepted the aircraft and informed (its crew) of the violation it was committing. The aircraft agreed to return to its base,” on the island of Curacao, the minister said.
He called the incident a “provocation” that “underestimated” Venezuela’s capacity to respond.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Venezuela would present a formal protest.
Venezuela took over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement from Iran at the summit.
Maduro sought to use the occasion to strengthen old alliances, amid a severe economic crisis that has left him fighting for his political survival and increasingly isolated on the international stage.
The Non-Aligned Movement — founded as a backlash against US and Soviet dominance during the Cold War — has a history of prickly relations with Washington.
The United States and Venezuela likewise have a history of bad blood under Maduro and Hugo Chavez, his late predecessor and mentor.
Caracas and Washington withdrew their ambassadors in 2010, and Maduro has repeatedly accused the US of backing coup plots against him.