A small group of Venezuela military officers at a base outside of Valencia called for the “immediate formation of a transition government,” saying that the action was a “civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order” in order to “save the country from total destruction.”
Hundreds of civilians in Valencia poured into the streets supporting the action. But in a few hours, police using tear gas had broken up the demonstrations.
Venezuelan authorities suppressed a small rebellion at a military base near the city of Valencia on Sunday, arresting seven men who they say participated in a “terrorist attack” against the government of unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
Earlier on Sunday a video circulated on social media showing a group of men in military uniform announcing an uprising in the wake of the creation of a pro-government legislative superbody on Friday, which was widely condemned as a power grab.
Hundreds took to the streets in Valencia to support the uprising, said resident Carolina Herrera, who like other witnesses reported shots through the night.
But hooded protesters had been largely dispelled with tear gas by midday on Sunday, and the rest of the South American country of 30 million appeared to be calm.
Still, the episode highlights how volatile Venezuela is after four months of sustained anti-government protests over what foes call a lurch into dictatorship in the midst of a bruising economic crisis.
Venezuela’s armed forces issued a statement calling the rebellion an ill-fated “propaganda show” aimed at destabilizing the country and reaffirmed their allegiance to Maduro.
Authorities said the men were mercenaries working for a U.S.-backed opposition to bring down nearly two decades of Socialism in oil-rich Venezuela, raising the specter of a further government crackdown on dissent in coming days.
“These attacks, planned by delirious minds in Miami, only strengthen the morale of our armed forces and the Bolivarian people,” said Socialist Party official Elias Jaua.
An isolated incident? Or a sign of things to come? One thing is sure, any coup plotters will not get any help from senior officers in the military.
Venezuelans view the armed forces as the key power broker in their country, and opposition leaders have repeatedly exhorted the military to break with Maduro over what they call his erosion of democracy and brutality toward demonstrators.
But the top brass continues to publicly profess loyalty to his government. Critics say juicy government contracts, corruption, and contraband mean many military officials want Maduro to stay in office and fear persecution should the opposition take power.
Discontent is higher among lower-tier officials, who are often sent to control rowdy protests and are paid just a few dozen U.S. dollars a month.
At least 120 people have been killed in demonstrations over the last few months and thousands more arrested. Maduro has been brutal in cracking down on the protests, giving many ordinary Venezuelans pause in joining them. Maduro has also arrested many of the opposition leaders, leaving them fragmented and weak.
It’s unknown how many soldiers actually believe the U.S. was behind the action in Valencia. But many of them are drawn from the ranks of the poorest Venezuelans that Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez courted assiduously with government handouts and subsidies.
It is likely they will believe anything they’re told by the government, making a coup by middle-ranking officers very difficult to organize.