Venezuela’s military attache in Washington has announced his defection from Nicolas Maduro’s government and says he now will report to interim president Juan Guaidó.
In a video published Jan. 26, Col. Jose Luis Silva, a key military official, called on other members of the military to join him in defecting from Maduro’s government, saying they need to avoid “attacking” protesters whose only aim is to feed themselves.
“The armed forces have a fundamental role to play in the restoration of democracy,” Silva said in the video from his office in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, sitting in front of the nation’s red, blue, and yellow flag.
Silva reminded the armed forces their purpose in society.
“My message to the armed forces is, ‘Don’t mistreat your people,'” Silva said. “We were given arms to defend the sovereignty of our nation. They never, never trained us to say, ‘This is for you to attack your people, to defend the current government in power.'”
Silva added he no longer recognized Maduro, and that he holds him responsible for all the deaths of protesters and people killed by security officials and pro-government “collectives.”
“Nicolas Maduro is the one responsible for all the extrajudicial deaths and disappearances in our country,” said Silva. “There’s no death penalty in my country that allows for people to be killed. So when a president, or the top military brass, when a superior tolerates that a subordinate kills someone, he becomes an accomplice.”
He also wanted everyone to know that most soldiers serving in the military are reluctantly serving their superiors.
“The top brass of the military and the executive branch are holding the armed forces hostage. There are many, many who are unhappy,” said Silva.
But support for Maduro’s rule is weaker among the rank and file, whose households are suffering from widespread shortages and hyperinflation like their civilian counterparts. Last week, a National Guard unit stole a stockpile of weapons in what it said was an attempt to oust Maduro. The uprising was quelled and 25 guardsmen arrested.
Just days after Maduro was inaugurated, a group of Venezuelan soldiers in Lima declared that they no longer recognized Maduro as their leader and called on other soldiers to follow suit.
Maduro, who gained power in 2013 and seemingly backed by the leaders in the armed forces, refused to stand down from a second term and inaugurated himself as president on Jan. 10.
Maduro’s inauguration met with worldwide condemnation that his leadership is illegitimate, following a May 2018 election that was widely viewed as fraudulent. The opposition largely boycotted the vote after its senior leaders were blocked from taking part. Critics accused the government of vote buying.
The domestic opposition, the United States and Latin-American neighbors in the Lima Group declined to recognize the result of the ballot.
With Venezuelan opposition sympathizers urging Guaidó to assume the presidency, Guaidó announced on Jan. 11 that he would invoke three constitutional articles “to call immediate free elections, and for the unity of the people, armed forces, and international community to end the usurpation,” only to be briefly detained by secret police on Jan. 13.
After Guaidó’s declaration in accordance with the constitution was met with confusion as to whether he was assuming the presidency and leading a new de facto government under his centrist social-democratic party Popular Will.
The National Assembly then called for a mass protest on Jan. 23 in the hopes of peacefully forcing Maduro to resign.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Caracas on Jan. 23 calling on Maduro to step down. Juan Guaidó then declared himself interim leader in accordance with the constitution with the aim of calling new elections.
The United States, Canada, and a string of Latin American countries in the Lima Group recognized the young leader in quick succession.
EU members Britain, Germany, France, and Spain all said on Jan. 26 they would recognize Guaidó if Maduro failed to call fresh elections in eight days, an ultimatum Russia said was “absurd” and the Venezuelan foreign minister called “childlike.”
Only six of 18 Latin American nations continue to support Maduro: Bolivia, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Uruguay.
His main international allies are Turkey, Belarus, Russia, China, and Iran, who would like to see their loans repaid. But if the transitional Guaidó government assures the debts will be honored, Maduro could further lose support, according to Fergus Hodgson, founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Antigua Report.
Guaidó’s declaration of himself as the interim president takes Venezuela into uncharted territory, with the possibility of the opposition now running a parallel government recognized abroad as legitimate but without control over state functions.
No Food, Medicine
Venezuela’s political and economic turmoil under Maduro sparked mass emigration and inflation that is seen rising to 10 million percent this year.
After overcoming heated opposition to hold a U.N. meeting on Jan. 26, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro’s “socialist experiment” had caused the economy to collapse and reduced ordinary Venezuelans to rooting through dumpsters for food.
“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. … Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo told the council. “We call on all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela’s democratic transition and interim President Guaidó’s role.”
He also successfully highlighted the problems of the Security Council in allowing for the situation that is unfolding in Venezuela. However, any council action to address the crisis would still be blocked by veto-powers Russia and China, diplomats said.
“China and Russia are propping up a failed regime in hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years,” he said. “This money was never intended to help the Venezuelan people; it lined the pockets of the Maduro regime, its cronies, and its benefactors.”
Pompeo called on the international community to disconnect their financial systems from Maduro’s regime.
After the Security Council debate, Guaidó sent a letter to Secretary General Antonio Guterres asking the United Nations for help addressing hunger, violence and the lack of medicines in his country.
The United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The United States announced on Jan. 24 that it is prepared to spend $20 million in humanitarian aid for the people of Venezuela.
Guaidó added that, “Several European countries have been in touch with us and are going to support the entry of humanitarian aid. … We continue adding countries to this great effort.”
The Maduro government has previously rejected such aid, denying there is a humanitarian crisis in the country and blaming economic problems on sanctions.
After Washington’s declaration of support for Guaidó on Jan. 23, Maduro cut off diplomatic relations with the United States and gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.
Some U.S. embassy staff left Caracas on Jan. 25, and Venezuela was withdrawing staff from Washington on Jan. 26, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said in a statement. However, Maduro softened his demand that all U.S. embassy staff withdraw by Jan. 26.
Instead, the two countries will seek an agreement to replace the embassies with “Interest Offices” in their respective capitals within 30 days, the statement said. If that fails, the missions would close.
Reuters and Epoch Times staff contributed to this article.