CARACAS, July 27 (Reuters) - Venezuelan Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello on Saturday said U.S. Marines will "likely" enter the South American country, a week after a confrontation between aircraft belonging to the two countries' armed forces.
"We are few, a small country, we are very humble, and here it is likely that the U.S. Marines enter. It is likely that they enter," Cabello told the audience of the Sao Paulo Forum, a gathering of leftist politicians and activists from across Latin America, without citing evidence.
"Their problem will be getting out of Venezuela."
Cabello also presides over the Constituent Assembly, a legislative superbody loyal to socialist President Nicolas Maduro which the opposition does not recognize. He is widely viewed as the second-most powerful official in Venezuela's government, after Maduro.
The comments came a week after the U.S. military accused a Venezuelan fighter aircraft of "aggressively" shadowing a U.S. Navy plane in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea. Venezuela's government said the "reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft" had entered its airspace.
U.S.-Venezuela tensions have escalated this year since Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
The United States and most Western democracies have recognized Guaido as the rightful leader. The Trump administration has said it prefers to continue to use sanctions and diplomacy to pressure Maduro to step down, but has not ruled out military action as an option.
Maduro retains control of state functions and calls Guaido a U.S. puppet seeking to oust him in a coup. (Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Richard Chang)