The first defection of a high-ranking military officer from the Venezuelan armed forces said in a video that he “doesn’t recognize the dictatorial authority of Nicolás Maduro,” and added that “the people have suffered enough.”
General Francisco Yanez of the Venezuelan air force endorsed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president two weeks ago.
“To order the armed forces to keep repressing the people is to continue killing more people from hunger, diseases and god willing combat between ourselves,” he said. “The people have suffered enough.”
Then Yanez invited the citizens to peacefully defend Guaidó in the streets. “To my armed fellow men,” he pleaded, “I ask you not to turn your back on the people of Venezuela.”
He is the first of the nation’s military brass to voice strong support for Guaidó, who declared himself interim president in January after denouncing the integrity of Venezuela’s presidential elections.
Yanez told the Associated Press that he would not issue other statements until he was authorized by “the commander-in-chief of the legal armed force,” Guaidó.
General Yanez is currently alone. The Venezuelan military, carefully courted and nurtured by both former President Chavez and current President Maduro, is not likely to switch loyalties in great numbers any time soon.
Several factions of Venezuela, including its Military Aviation and the Academy of Aviation, used Twitter to denounce the general. They tweeted a photo of Yanez in his uniform with the word “TRAITOR” scrawled across. The Air Force Command also accused him of switching sides because his father is facing an investigation into corruption.
Although hundreds of generals serve in the Venezuelan military, the announcement represents a victory for Guaidó, NPR’s Philip Reeves reports. The young leader has asked armed forces to still their guns, and hopes to weaken their loyalty to Maduro.
Guaidó passed an amnesty measure for them in the National Assembly. Supporters in the streets have handed out copies of the law to soldiers and police, though analysts say Maduro receives loyalty from top-ranking officers by giving them big paychecks and control of lucrative assets.
Maduro is becoming more isolated both in Venezuela and around the world. But he still has significant friends. Both Russia and Turkey are criticizing nations supporting Guaido, with foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying that outside nations are fueling the crisis by not supporting Maduro.
“There is a problem in a country, there is a spark that can turn into a fire at any moment. In this case, they should have contributed to the solution of the problem through dialogue,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul.
“But is that how they handled things? No. On the contrary, the event was fueled from the outside. The people of Venezuela are being punished by such approach,” he said.
Maduro is toast. The only question is how he exits the scene. Hopefully, the U.S. and Latin American countries can engineer a peaceful departure for the former bus driver, whose policies impoverished one of the wealthiest countries in the world.