Signs of fraying in military support for Venezuela president
As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro launches his second term challenged by a re-energized opposition movement, experts say his hold on power relies more than ever on military backing.
Maduro has granted bonuses to rank-and-file soldiers and placed generals in key government posts, including at the helm of the state-run oil company, seeking to cement their support.
But with Venezuela sliding into economic collapse, there have been signs in recent years of fraying in military support:
On Monday, authorities reported detaining a small group of National Guard soldiers who stormed a police station in the capital of Caracas before dawn. The soldiers captured a captain and used two vehicles to steal a cache of weapons from another outpost, officials said.
The heavily armed national guardsmen posted videos on social media saying they no longer recognized Maduro’s legitimacy as president.
Officials said they quickly made 27 arrests and recovered the weapons. They blamed “dark interests of the extreme right” in buying the soldiers’ loyalty.
On Aug. 4, Maduro was the target of an apparent assassination attempt when two drones armed with explosives detonated near him as he spoke at an outdoor military event in Caracas.
Authorities said the drones were headed to the stage where Maduro stood with his wife and other high-ranking officials. Presidential security electronically deflected one drone, while the second crashed into a nearby building.
Officials jailed dozens of suspects. They include an opposition lawmaker and three high-ranking military personnel, one a general in the National Guard.
On May 20-21, at least 11 officers in Venezuela’s naval and air forces were detained in the central state of Aragua, home to some of the country’s main military units.
They were accused of engaging in a plot against Maduro, but officials have never given any details. Government critics called it a “witch hunt,” unleashed after Maduro’s controversial re-election.
On Aug. 6, 2017, a group of armed men attacked the Paramacay military base in Carabobo state, killing two soldiers and wounding three others. Officials said the attackers made off with weapons.
Among the detainees were military deserters and a former member of the political police, authorities said, adding that dozens more remained fugitives.
On June 27, 2017, rogue police officer Oscar Perez mounted a dramatic attack in a stolen helicopter, flying over Caracas to launch grenades at the Supreme Court building.
The incident played out as Venezuela was gripped by deadly street demonstrations every day for four months as protesters demanded Maduro step down.
Perez and several comrades died in a gunbattle with police after months on the run. Videos posted on social media showed Perez shouting to officials while under fire that the group wanted to surrender.