Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro began purging high-rankings members of his military who have expressed their opposition to his failed socialist regime this weekend.
In a presidential decree released via state media on Friday, Maduro announced that 24 soldiers had been demoted or dismissed from the military following an alleged attempt “by violent means to damage the Republic.”
The decree claims soldiers had become “unworthy of belonging to the National Armed Bolivarian Forces (FARB)” and “for having violated with their conduct the values and principles that represent the military as an institution.”
It also accuses them of having “created a state of imbalance and anxiety thus threatening the freedom and independence of the nation,” as well as the “excessive and disproportionate misuse of weapons of war that endangers the independence and sovereignty of Venezuela.”
Some of the individuals degraded from their military positions include Hugo Chávez’s former defense minister and now imprisoned government critic General Raúl Isaías Baduel, the exiled General Antonio Rivero of the Voluntad Popular party, and Captain Juan Caguaripano, who last year stormed a barracks and called on the military to overthrow the regime.
As well as stripping 13 generals of their titles, Maduro ordered the expulsion of 11 young soldiers deemed disloyal to the regime.
The upper ranks of the Venezuela military still remain relatively loyal to the government, as Maduro continues to appoint military leaders to powerful government positions. Meanwhile, security forces are regularly deployed as a repressive tool against civilians and political dissidents.
However, this latest purge is another sign of Maduro’s crumbling authority over the military, with thousands of soldiers now deserting its ranks amid devastatingly low morale as the regime fails to provide them with adequate food rations or living essentials amid the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in the country’s history.
In January, former Maduro cabinet minister Gen. Herbert Garcia Plaza told the Miami Herald that around 800 National Guardsmen and 1,200 soldiers had not returned to work following the Christmas holidays. As a result, authorities are desperately trying to increase benefits for military personnel to prevent any potential exodus.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson warned that the military could soon oust Maduro and manage a transition back into democracy.
“In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, often times, it is the military that handles that,” Tillerson said. “When things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that it just can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition.”