Venezuela: Soldiers Free Leopoldo López, Guaido Declares Military Removal of Socialists

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó announced early Tuesday morning that he had finally secured the backing of the nation’s armed forces, who would proceed to remove dictator Nicolás Maduro and allow Guaidó to exercise the powers of his office.

Guaidó appeared in images on Twitter alongside Leopoldo López, the head of his socialist Popular Will party, at the La Carlota Airbase, where he claimed the soldiers had agreed to his status as legitimate commander-in-chief. López has been under house arrest since being accused of “terrorism” for organizing peaceful protests against dictator Nicolás Maduro in 2014.

“People of Venezuela, a very good morning, as you know our struggle has always been couched in the constitution, in non-violent struggle, in working for our neighbors, in saving lives, in working for the most vulnerable,” Guaidó said on Twitter. “When the international community amply supported Venezuela, we will be with the people.”

“We make a plea to government employees … our brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men attached to the constitution, have heeded our call today,” he declared.

Guaidó requested that Venezuelans flood the streets to take over. He had planned a thousands-strong rally for May 1, typically a holiday to celebrate Marxism, but, he said in his message, “May 1st has arrived today.”

Guaidó declared that the military had joined “Operation Liberty,” his name for the plan, led by the nation’s legislature, to remove Maduro.

“People of Venezuela, it is necessary that we go out to the street today, to back democratic forces and recover our freedom,” Guaidó announced. “Organized and together, move to the [country’s] main military units. People of Caracas, come to La Carlota.”

Also on Twitter, López confirmed that soldiers had secured his release from house arrest, defying Maduro’s authority.

“Venezuela: the definitive phase for the end of the usurpation is over, Operation Liberty,” López wrote. “I have been freed by soldiers as per the Constitution and President Guaidó. I am at the Carlota Airbase. Let’s all move. It is time to conquer Liberty. Strength and Faith.”

NTN24, a Venezuelan news network with live footage on the ground, published an interview with one of the soldiers, identified as Lieutenant Ilich Sánchez. He explained that the soldiers congregating around Guaidó had responded to information that the Maduro regime would use armed civilians to attack the rebel soldiers.

“All I can say is that there are a lot of us like me … that the terror is not letting us move forward. We just want to live in peace. We do not want a confrontation. I repeat: we do not want confrontation. We have intelligence that armed civilians would come to hurt the protesters at La Carlota. That is why we are here,” Sánchez, standing next to Guaidó, said.

The Maduro regime and its predecessor under dictator Hugo Chávez has for years used colectivos, armed civilian gangs, to terrorize anti-socialist dissidents. Chávez repealed laws allowing for private gun ownership, leaving law-abiding citizens unarmed, but did not act against socialist gangs who routinely violated the law. Following years of protests beginning with those led by López in 2013 and 2014, Maduro announced in 2017 that he would take measures to ensure that anyone willing to participate in a colectivo would be armed and able to kill protesters.

Videos and photos on social media taken largely by local news outlets appeared to show soldiers congregating in front of and in the La Carlota barracks to support Guaidó. At press time, there is no indication of resistance by the Maduro regime.

As dawn approached at the airbase, it appeared that people began to heed to call. Videos and images on Twitter showed a large crowd forming in front of the La Carlota airbase and soldiers opening the gates to allow them in.

Juan Guaidó became president in January after being elected president of the National Assembly. The Assembly remains the only democratically elected federal entity in the country after Maduro “re-elected” himself through fraudulent elections last May. As per the Venezuelan constitution, citizens are allowed to appoint an interim president and remove the current leader when there is a rupture in the democratic order, such as a coup, fraudulent election, or violent takeover. The Assembly used its constitutional power to appoint its leader the interim president of Venezuela. Guaidó has promised, with the support of the international community, to use his power to restore order, bring humanitarian aid to starving Venezuelans, and schedule elections when the situation stabilizes.

This breaking news story is developing.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.