Politically motivated arrests of soldiers and military personnel in Venezuela reached an all-time high in 2018, according to a report from grassroots Venezuelan site Crónica Uno published Monday.
According to the latest figures, 197 members of the military are facing charges on crimes such as incitement to rebellion, treason to the fatherland, and breach of military etiquette, charges meant to target any dissent within the ranks of dictator Nicolás Maduro’s military. The number now surpasses that arrested former Venezuelan dictators Hugo Chávez and Marcos Pérez Jiménez.
As part of their effort to guarantee loyalty, the regime recently began purging high-rankings members of the military who they suspect of disloyalty. In March, Maduro issued a presidential decree announcing that 24 soldiers had been demoted or dismissed from the military over their supposed attempts “to damage the Republic by violent means.”
Some of the individuals dismissed from their military positions included the exiled General Antonio Rivero of the Voluntad Popular party, Hugo Chávez’s former defense minister and imprisoned government critic General Raúl Isaías Badue, and Captain Juan Caguaripano, who last year stormed a barracks and called on the military to overthrow the regime.
Yet there is growing evidence of widespread discontent among lower military ranks, as thousands of soldiers choose to jump ship amid devastatingly low morale caused in large part by a drastic fall in wages that has left many of them unable to access enough food or living essentials.
There have also been various rebellions designed to overthrow the regime, including an alleged assassination attempt against Maduro himself, although none have had any measurable success. Tensions reached a head back in January, following the assassination of the rebel militia leader Óscar Pérez, himself a former police officer.
The higher echelons of the Venezuelan military remain relatively loyal to the government, as the regime continues to subsidize their expensive lifestyles and appoint military leaders to powerful government positions. Last month, leading regime official Diosdado Cabello claimed that the country’s armed forces would remain loyal to them should the U.S. or any other country try to topple the regime and were now “fully prepared” to go into combat.
“The United States offers our military amnesty. If you rise up against Maduro, you will be forgiven. As if the military had something to be forgiven for. Is it wrong to love our country? To defend it?” he said during a speech in front of party loyalists. “Our Armed Forces, I believe, are prepared to resist those attacks of the North American imperialism and of the European Union, because they have a great conscience.”