Members of the Venezuelan opposition have been visiting army bases, offering soldiers amnesty from prosecution if they turn against the government. The battle for the future of Venezuela is a battle for the hearts and minds of the armed forces.
Anyone who wants to get rid of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro cannot do it without the army. And that’s the tricky part because the army has been a willing partner in the Venezuelan government’s criminal activities.
“It is very important when we analyze the situation in Venezuela to keep in mind that this is not a regular dictatorship,” said Latin American analyst Juan Carlos Hidalgo. “This is a mafia. This is a criminal gang running a country with large reserves of oil.”
“They’re deeply involved in crimes against human rights, corruption and drug trafficking. The estimated corruption runs in the hundreds of billions of dollars,” Hidalgo added.
Hidalgo says because of that, Venezuela’s military leaders have a strong incentive to keep Maduro in power. “The armed forces know that the alternative for them to be in power is either going to jail or face justice in Venezuela under a democratic government or face extradition to the United States for drug trafficking,” Hidalgo explained.
That’s why the opposition is offering amnesty to the military.
The other power broker is Cuba. The island nation is heavily invested in the survival of Maduro and is spying on the army and helping to enforce loyalty.
According to Hidalgo, “Thousands of Cuban troops are deeply embedded in the armed forces as well as the intelligence services and security services. This is why it’s so difficult for troops to launch an uprising.”
Maduro is now maneuvering to crush the rebellion, and on Tuesday announced a formal investigation of opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the US and several nations as the real president of Venezuela. Guaido said if anything happens to him, the protests will intensify.
President Donald Trump phoned Guaido and offered his support, saying all options are on the table in dealing with Maduro.
But Guaido has said he’s against using the US military to get rid of Maduro.