A group of men identifying themselves as Venezuelan soldiers published a video on social media calling for an overthrow of the socialist regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro, shortly before the government announced it had quelled an uprising in Carabobo state on Sunday.
The incident, which Maduro claims was orchestrated by the American Department of State and unspecified Colombian agents, has added more intrigue to the increasingly chaotic situation in what was once Latin America’s wealthiest state, following Maduro’s imposition of a parallel socialist legislature tasked with drafting a new constitution more favorable to his regime.
A man identifying himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano of the 41st Brigade says in a video published on social media this weekend that his troops have declared themselves in “legitimate rebellion” against Maduro’s government. “We clarify that this is not a coup d’etat: this is a civilian and military action to re-establish the constitutional order, but even moreso to save the country from total destruction,” he asserts.
While Caguaripano asserts that he recognizes the democratically-elected, opposition-held National Assembly, he warns opposition leaders that “the time for pacts and obscure agreements between tyrants and traitors is over. We need honest politicians that will override the corrupt chambers of power.”
The last message appears to be regarding calls by Henry Ramos Allup, a socialist opposition member, to legitimize the Maduro regime by participating in regional elections—a move that has triggered widespread condemnation among the anti-socialist opposition:
— Marco Ferreira (@mferreiratorres) August 6, 2017
On Sunday morning, soldiers attacked the Paramacay Fort in Carabobo state, where the 41st Brigade is located, in an act of rebellion apparently linked to the Caguaripano video. Reports note that Caguaripano himself has been actively anti-chavista since the 2014 protests, during which the Maduro regime violently cracked down on protesters and arrested opposition leader Leopoldo López for organizing peaceful protests (“terrorism”).
Upon hearing of the attack, local reports indicate that “dozens” of civilians near the fort ran towards it to support and fight with the soldiers involved. The civilians congregated singing the national anthem and chanting “defend the honor of Bolívar,” a reference to the nation’s founding father. Chavista gangs reportedly attacked the civilians.
Chavistas once again called the action at Paramacay “terrorism” and rapidly claimed victory over the “mercenaries” on Sunday.
“What happened today was a terrorist, paramilitary, mercenary attack paid for by the right [the opposition] and its collaborators, paid for by the North American empire,” Army chief Gen Jesus Suarez Chourio following the incident. On his Sunday night program Sundays with Maduro, Maduro himself was more specific.
“This faction was paid by Miami and Colombia,” he claimed. “I demand the maximum sentence for all the conspirators in this terrorist attack at Paramacay Fort.”
Maduro did not provide any evidence linking the soldiers to the United States or Colombia.
The National Armed Forces (FAN) released a statement claiming that all those involved were mostly civilians, not members of the military. “The captured suspects have confessed to being contracted … by extreme right-wing activists in Venezuela with ties to foreign governments,” the statement claimed, adding that at least one of those detained was a lieutenant in the military. Maduro referred to this individual on television as “a deserting lieutenant from a few months ago” who was captured after the attack. Of the rest, he said, “They are paid civilians.”
The incident follows months of calls from the opposition to the nation’s military to stop taking orders from Maduro, who has relied heavily on deploying the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) against unarmed civilians to discourage protesters. As orders against civilians became more violent, opposition leaders and NGO on the ground have reported desertion, charges of insubordination, and arrests growing within the military’s ranks. In May, the head of the NGO Venezuelan Penal Forum reported that his group had documented dozens of cases of soldiers charged with “insubordination” for expressing dissatisfaction with the Maduro dictatorship.
In June, a soldier identifying himself as First Sergeant Giomar Alexander Flores Ortíz published a video on social media asking his fellow soldiers to “not follow the abusive and unconstitutional orders that our superiors give us.”
“In the fulfillment of this function I am at the exclusive service of the country, with absolutely no political partisanship,” he said at the time, “I hereby ratify my rejection of Nicolás Maduro Moros as an illegitimate president.”
By July, reports indicated that the government was processing over one hundreds soldiers on charges of treason and insubordination for not obeying orders to violate the human rights of unarmed protesters.