Venezuela’s top military officials took to the airwaves on Thursday to swear their support to embattled President Nicolas Maduro after the US and a dozen other nations recognized his main political rival as the rightful head of state.
One by one, eight regional commanders and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez appeared on state television pledging their loyalty and denouncing a “coup” after Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, declared himself president on Wednesday. While US President Donald Trump, Canada and the 11 Latin American countries that make up the Lima Group supported Guaido, the defense minister said Venezuela’s security forces would never accept an “imposed” government.
“We swore to die for the fatherland,” Padrino Lopez, flanked by his top lieutenants, told reporters at Caracas’s main military base. “What we saw yesterday [Wednesday] was reprehensible.”
Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on Wednesday in the capital and other major cities to back Guaido as he invoked a constitutional amendment that would enable him to lead a caretaker government. The move was largely symbolic as the Supreme Court removed nearly all powers from the legislature, the only institution not controlled by Maduro’s allies, more than a year ago. But foreign leaders and opposition supporters have been quick to back Guaido’s plan.
The 35-year-old congressman is now aggressively calling on the armed forces, long seen as Venezuela’s key power broker, to break ranks. In return, he offers blanket amnesty for alleged corruption and human-rights abuses.
Some two dozen national guardsman revolted on Monday at a base in west Caracas, stealing weapons and posting videos on social medial that called on other soldiers to defect. The rebellion was quickly quashed but quickly sparked unrest throughout Venezuela.
About 218 people have been arrested across the country since Monday, according to Foro Penal, a Caracas legal group. So far, 13 people have died in the protests, reported Social Conflict Observatory, a non-government organization. Guaido, seeking to keep the pressure on Maduro, is calling for protests to continue in coming days.
Image credits: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg