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"Plan Balboa" Not a US Plan To Invade Venezuela

Since April 2004, Venezuelan officials, including President Hugo Chavez, have falsely claimed that the United States is planning to invade Venezuela in an operation supposedly entitled "Plan Balboa."  President Chavez repeated this claim prominently in a September 16, 2005 interview on the ABC News program Nightline.

The allegation is false.  "Plan Balboa" is a mischaracterization of a Spanish military exercise called Operation Balboa, which took place in 2001. Operation Balboa was a routine academic military exercise conducted by Spain's Higher School of the Armed Forces from May 3-18, 2001.  It included officers from different countries, including Venezuela.  Neither the United States nor NATO participated in the exercise. In the map of the Plan Balboa four countries that correspond respectively to the United States, Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama are distinguished with colors, and although their names are not mentioned, is presumed that Venezuela is the zone to invade. The United States was identified as the Blue Country, Colombia as the White Country, Panama as the Cyan Country and Venezuela as the Brown Country.

Between May 3 and May 18, 2001, the Spanish Armed Forces conducted a simulated land, air, and sea assault in which US and allied countries, authorized by the United Nations, attacked the western part of Venezuela from bases in Panama and Colombia. The exercise "presented a fictitious situation, the product of the evolution of imaginary happenings, although they are adapted to real-life situations," according the "General Rules of Simulation" and the "Specific Exercise Plan for Operation Balboa." The military exercise included operation by land, air and sea in which the forces of the United States along with regional allies carried an attack to seize the west of Venezuela.

The so-called "Operation Balboa" would imply the use of Colombian territory by the armed forces of the Americans to venture into Venezuela. Hugo Chávez alleged that this operation is more than a simulation, and that it is a part of real plan (Plan Balboa) to invade Venezuela and seize its oil. As a result of this, he announced that Venezuela had designed a Contra-Balboa operation to face this threat. Chávez made this claim on 16 September 2005, during an interview on ABC News' Nightline show.

Since late 2007, the Venezuelan leader accused President Uribe of Colombia of being a "peon of the empire" and warned the "Colombia was becoming the aircraft carrier Of the United States," from which a military aggression was "prepared against Venezuela" under the famous Operation Balboa. The theme of the American invasion was again raised by Chavez in July 2008 after the United States announced the reactivation of the 4th Fleet in the Caribbean.

A description of Operation Balboa, in Spanish, could be found on the Internet [404].  The cover sheet is marked "Ejercicio Específico Planeamiento Operativo 'Balboa'" (Operation "Balboa" Specific Planning Exercise), clearly denoting an exercise.  Moreover, the operation is described as an "Ejercicio de simulacion," meaning "simulation exercise." 

On 16 September 2005 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced the existence of a US governmental plan, codenamed Plan Balboa, to invade Venezuela. In statements to Ted Koppel on ABC TV, Chavez said he has evidence of the plan. Chavez said Venezuela was ready to fight an aggression and predicted that Washington will be involved in a 100-year war, in case it attacks the government of Caracas. He said that US soldiers had recently participated in military exercises in the island of Curacao, off the Venezuelan northeastern coast, saying it was a sign of military preparations.

In the September 16, 2005, interview, President Chavez told Nightline host Ted Koppel that he had "evidence" of an alleged U.S. plan to invade Venezuela and, at Koppel's request, promised to supply Nightline with documentation to back up his charges.  On November 15, 2005, Koppel reported: "Back in September, I interviewed Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, an outspoken opponent of the Bush administration.  He said that he would produce for us documented proof that the U.S. planned to invade his country.  Two months later, we reported that we had received nothing of the kind. Last Friday, we did receive some documents that Venezuela says prove NATO countries did plan an invasion - something called "Plan Balboa."  This evening, the U.S. State Department said that plan was a routine, academic, military exercise planned by Spain with absolutely no U.S. involvement.  That is exactly what we have been told by a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations and what we reported to you a couple of weeks ago.  End of story."

The documents on Operation Balboa to which Mr. Koppel referred are posted on the Venezuelan news and analysis Web site VCrisis.com.  Each bears the notation  "Clasificado Didactico," i.e., "classified for instructional purposes" - further demonstration that Operation Balboa was only a simulation. 

Asked by Nightline to evaluate the documents, Ambassador Adolfo Taylhardat, a Venezuelan diplomat for 39 years and an elected member of the Latin American Parliament, concluded that the documents contain no evidence of a planned U.S. invasion of Venezuela, but instead pertain to a Spanish military exercise conducted in 2001.

Diego Quintana, spokesman for the Spanish Embassy in Caracas, states that Operation Balboa "was an exercise, nothing more.  And [Venezuelan government officials] know that."

The Miami Herald investigated the charges and concluded, "Yes, Plan Balboa does exist, but only as a war game - organized by Spain's military, not the U.S. military. ." The Operation Balboa documents make it clear that the exercise was constructed around a fictitious scenario.  For example, a notional "United Nations Security Council Resolution 1580," dated March 21, 2001, is included.  There was no United Nations Security Council resolution by that number in 2001; the highest-numbered resolution that year was 1386.  The actual UNSCR 1580 was adopted on December 22, 2004, and pertained to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Moreover, all the Operation Balboa documents are in Spanish.  The language of the U.S. government and U.S. armed forces is English.  The only two official languages of NATO are English and French, according to NATO's official Web site.  

Thus, it is clear that "Plan Balboa" is not a U.S. scheme to invade Venezuela, but a 2001 exercise by Spain's Higher School of the Armed Forces, in which neither the United States nor NATO were involved.

How did such a false story arise?  General Melvin Lopez Hidalgo, then Secretary of Venezuela's National Defense Council, said in April 2004 that the "Plan Balboa" story arose after a Venezuelan Air Force officer training in Spain reported details of Operation Balboa to his superiors.  In the May 2, 2004 issue of the pro-government Venezuelan weekly Quinto Dia, General Lopez claimed, falsely, that "Operation Balboa" was a U.S./NATO war plan.  Since then, pro-Venezuelan government media and Internet reports have repeated the story, and the government of Venezuela has continually mischaracterized what was a routine Spanish military exercise, in what appears to be a deliberate campaign of anti-U.S. disinformation.



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