The socialist government of Venezuela has denied claims by opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski that police have arrested 85 soldiers for refusing to follow orders from dictator Nicolás Maduro. The claim precedes a call to arms from Leopoldo López, the nation’s most prominent political dissident, who has called for soldiers to cease attacks on unarmed protesters.
Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and most recent opposition presidential candidate, claimed on Friday that over eighty soldiers, possibly 85, had been arrested for opposing the “repression” of the marches against the government. The daily marches have continued for over a month since the Supreme Court attempted to nullify the opposition-held National Assembly and install itself as the federal legislative body.
“They have been detained for the mere act of expressing discontent and having given a signal, a declaration, some comment disagreeing with how the National Guard and National Police are acting, the savage repression,” Capriles said in a Periscope broadcast Friday.
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Capriles allegedly added that over one thousand soldiers are requesting to leave the force due to discontent with Maduro.
The National Assembly minority leader, Socialist Party (PSUV) leader, and TV show host Diosdado Cabello denied the claims on Monday. “He said a few days ago that 85 soldiers are detained. Lies,” Cabello told reporters. “He has not the slightest idea what is going on in the barracks, how a soldier thinks.”
“They are just saying these things to see if they can get their spirits up, because every day there are fewer of them on the street,” Cabello claimed.
The claims preceded word from Leopoldo López, the head of the opposition Popular Will party, directing soldiers to refuse to accept orders to attack civilians. López is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for having organized peaceful protests in 2014 at the notorious Ramo Verde military prison, where he has served much of his time in solitary confinement.
The government refused to allow his wife, Lilian Tintori, to visit López without cause for the month of April, prompting reports last week that López had been taken to a military hospital in “very serious” condition. The government denied the reports while continuing to refuse to allow his family to see López, instead publishing a bizarre “proof of life” video in which a man claiming to be López says the time and date in which the video was released (May 3, 9PM local time).
Maduro’s government finally allowed Tintori to see López on Sunday, and she returned with a message from her husband to the protesters not to stop marching. Tintori also published a message to the nation’s military from López on his official Twitter account. “Do not obey the orders to repress the people that a cabal looking only to protect their power gives you, if you are loyal to the true Bolivarian spirit, remember: ‘Damned be the soldier who uses his weapons against the people.'”
The quote is attributed to Simón Bolívar, founding father of Venezuela and distant relative and Leopoldo López. The socialist government uses the adjective “Bolivarian” to describe itself and efforts to diminish the influence of the United States in the region.
“The Constitution protects you if you decide to disobey illegal and unjust orders,” López’s message to soldiers concluded.
At least three soldiers have publicly deserted. Identified as Jose Alejandro Michael Sanchez, Angel David Mogollon Medina and Alfredo Jose Rodriguez, the three men fled to Colombia and posted a video on YouTube explaining their reasons for abandoning the country – namely, that they did not recognize Maduro’s legitimacy and refused to follow orders to attack unarmed civilian protesters. The video encouraged other soldiers to abandon the military as well.