Venezuela Says Its Jets Intercepted U.S. Plane
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez said he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept a U.S. military plane that twice violated Venezuelan airspace on Friday in what he called the latest provocation in the South American nation's skies.
Brandishing a photo of the plane, which he described as a P-3, Mr. Chávez said the overflight was the latest incursion in Venezuelan skies by the U.S. military from its bases on the Netherlands' Caribbean islands and from neighboring Colombia.
There was no immediate response from the U.S. Defense Department or the White House.
Separately, Mr. Chávez announced a currency devaluation for the first time since 2005. The president said Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, will now have two government-set rates depending on the use, either 2.60 to the dollar for transactions deemed priorities by the government or 4.30 to the dollar for other transactions. The currency's official exchange rate has been held by the government at 2.15 bolivars to the dollar.
On the plane interception, Mr. Chávez said the F-16s escorted the U.S. plane away after two incursions lasting 15 and 19 minutes each.
The perceived threat of U.S. intervention has become a central element of Mr. Chávez's political discourse and a rallying cry for his supporters.
Foes say the president is hyping the idea of a foreign threat to distract Venezuelans from domestic problems such as a recession and inadequate public services. Mr. Chávez surprised the diplomatic world in December when he accused the Netherlands of abetting potential offensive action against his government by granting U.S. troops access to its islands close to Venezuela.
The Dutch government says the U.S. presence is only for counternarcotics and surveillance operations over Caribbean smuggling routes.