An uprising of soldiers against the government of Nicolás Maduro has raised questions about corruption inside the armed forces and links between the military’s top commanders and organized crime.
The mutiny of national guardsmen was revealed through videos spread on social media on January 21. Involved in the uprising were more than 20 soldiers attached to the command of Zone 43 of the Venezuelan National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana - GNB).
In the videos, the rebels can be heard criticizing corruption inside the Venezuelan National Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana - FANB).
“Here no one can get medicine…one speaks with the commanders so that they can help us, but they turn their backs on us…simply, the officials get their fill. And that’s it. There is only for them and nothing more. And us? The troops? We are going to send a message to all of Venezuela: that we are suffering the same as the people of Venezuela."
Within hours of the uprising, the Defense Ministry sent an official notice that there had been mutinies at three barracks in Caracas, from which guns and ammunition were taken. Authorities said they had arrested 27 soldiers and recovered the weapons.
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The uprising of guardsmen triggered a wave of protests in Venezuelan states that have seen citizens repressed by authorities and by criminal armed groups called “colectivos.” The uprising comes amid the debate about Maduro's alleged takeover of the presidency and the call for a nationwide protest against his regime on January 23.
InSight Crime Analysis
There have been repeated accusations that the Venezuelan military is involved in organized crime, in relation to illegal mining, the theft of gasoline, and the trafficking of drugs under the banner of the “Cartel of the Suns” (Cartel de los Soles).
The military's links to criminal economies appear to be one of the driving forces that pushed the soldiers to take up arms and reject the Maduro government, which has sent Venezuela into a devastating social and economic crisis.
In one of the videos, a soldier alleges that the illegal economies taking place inside the ranks of the FANB have only benefited the military’s commanders, which have shown unconditional support for Maduro.
Rejection of his leadership from certain elements of the military comes at a bad time for Maduro, who is facing arguably the toughest challenge to his rule.
The charismatic Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, has declared himself to be "interim president" of Venezuela. The international community was quick to rally round him, with US President Donald Trump formally recognizing his decision, along with Canada, Brazil, and most of Latin America.
Thousands of Venezuelans have also taken to the streets, demanding for Maduro to resign. So far, the violence has killed at least 17 people and Maduro defiantly cut off ties with the US, ordering its diplomats to leave within 72 hours.
Since last March, 16 high-ranking military officers have been sanctioned by the US and other countries. Among those sanctioned were the Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López and Interior Minister Néstor Reverol, who has been accused by US prosecutors of being involved in drug trafficking.
Perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a change of government in Venezuela and a return to democracy will be the military’s high-ranking officers, who seem likely to continue supporting the Maduro regime and preserve their links with drug trafficking and organized crime.