The struggle for control of the army in Venezuela | international

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Maduro's opponents in front of the tanks this Wednesday.

With blue ribbons tied on the arm, a small group of soldiers appeared with Leopoldo López and Juan Guaidó, recognized by more than 50 countries as interim president of Venezuela, near the La Carlota air base in Caracas, to challenge the regime of Nicolás Maduro and open the way for the so-called Operation Freedom, the road map of the opposition to dethrone the chavismo of power.

The insubordination was led by lieutenant colonels Ilich Sánchez Farías, head of custody of the federal legislative building, and Rafael Pablo Soto Manzanares, commander of the 432 branch of the National Guard, who accompanied political leaders in Tuesday's anti-government protests. It was a symbolic gesture of some soldiers who showed discontent in the military ranks and who had the goal of encouraging the troops to disobey the orders of Hugo Chávez's successor, but there was no sign of a breach in the uniform, indispensable in a true coup d'état.

The high command showed its loyalty to the regime, although its allegiance was questioned by John Bolton, a White House security advisor, when he claimed that Iván Hernández Dala, commander of the Presidential Honor Guard, and Vladimir Padrino López, Minister of Defense, They negotiated the exit of Maduro.

The Chavistas attributed the attitude of the group of anti-regime soldiers to an opposition scheme. As proof they released a video, in government channels, with the testimony of several soldiers who claim to have been deceived by their opponents. "The 80% of all the staff that went to that distributor (in Altamira) was deceived. It is part of a format, a mitómana behavior, confusing, leading to disasters, chaos, death, a group of men who they are fulfilling their mission, "said Padrino López.

The guards intensified the repression and did not pity the protesters. Chaos captured eastern Caracas on Tuesday, when a National Guard tank hit several young people in protest and dozens of soldiers clashed with opponents. It was a day when 60 people were injured in the capital, including five officers.

The fate of Sánchez Farías and Soto Manzanares remains unknown on Wednesday, although some 25 low-ranking soldiers have sought asylum at the Brazilian embassy to protect themselves from reprisals. Yonathan Mustiola, lawyer and director of the Venezuelan justice NGO, believes that defections and escapes weaken Maduro, although he stresses that many abstain due to fear of the regime's penalties. "The troops think twice about separating themselves from the FANB (Bolivarian national armed forces), especially through torture. Counter-espionage officials are usually Machiavellian with dissidents," he explains. His organization has seen an increase in military arrests for political reasons since 2017.

Guaidó's appearance in the political scene has opened up a possibility for discontent. The chief, nephew of two officers, promised to grant amnesty to those who dissociated themselves from the Bolivarian revolution. The proposal, combined with the economic crisis, has driven over a thousand soldiers to leave FANB since February. But the escapes are not enough to decipher the high command.

The power of weapons

Hernán Castillo, a professor at Simón Bolívar University, says that foreign influence is a determining factor in leadership actions. "Cubans receive socio-economic benefits in exchange for the implication of a totalitarian and police system in Venezuela, such as the one established in Cuba for 60 years. It is not just their presence in the military institution, but in the entire structure of the Venezuelan society and state (…) That makes it difficult to get out of the crisis, hinders an electoral peaceful solution, "he says.

Meanwhile, Maduro clings to the power of weapons like never before since 2015. His letter is the support of vigilante groups that are committed to surviving in the fear of losing their immunity with a possible change of government. Maduro gave his blessing to the armed groups to violently disperse the protests of the opposition, while consolidating itself in the FAES (special forces of action), a police accused of executions and massacres, to appease the manifestations of discontent in the poor neighborhoods.

Disobedience in the Sebin

The head of the Bolivarian national intelligence service (Sebin) is a man on the run. General Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, director of the political police until Tuesday, is now persecuted by the Maduro regime after the release of Leopoldo López, sentenced to 13 years of house arrest, facilitated by many of his agents.
There was no official statement of support at the opposition, but a letter spread on social networks and presumably about his paternity, although he recognized Maduro as president, criticized the deterioration of the country due to corruption and divestment. "C & # 39; who dared to call me traitor or sold; I tell them that they know me very little, because I have a high sense of loyalty", says the letter.
The episode revealed that the president does not have full control of the heads of the security forces. Maduro postponed the direction of the political police to general in chief Gustavo González López, fired after the death of Councilor Fernando Albán, in October, after he fell from the tenth floor of the Sebin in Caracas, and from an accident with the presidential caravan. The soldier is faithful to Diosdado Cabello, number two of the Venezuelan regime.

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