Venezuela Detains National Guards Accused of Turning on Maduro
CARACAS, Venezuela — Members of the Venezuelan National Guard were detained in the capital early Monday, the military said, after online videos showed a group of soldiers pledging allegiance to an opposition leader seeking to oust President Nicolás Maduro.
The soldiers’ apparent defiance at a military installation in the western Caracas neighborhood of Cotiza occurred days after opposition leaders offered amnesty to members of the armed forces who turned their backs on the government and helped establish a transitional government that would convene fair elections.
The United States and several governments in the region have backed the opposition’s plan, but leaders of the movement acknowledge that getting the armed forces to flip will be the toughest hurdle.
It was not immediately clear how many service members were taken into custody after security forces surrounded the military installation. Neighbors reported hearing clashes as nearby residents banged pots and pans, apparently in a show of support for the mutinous troops.
Venezuela’s military said the rebellious soldiers had stockpiled weapons. “These subjects will face the full weight of the law,” the military said in a statement.
Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, a legislative body packed with Maduro loyalists, said the service members who had participated in the uprising had been “neutralized, defeated and captured in record time.” He added in a series of messages posted on Twitter that the men were “confessing details” and that they had turned on the government after being offered “villas and castles.”
Juan Guaidó, the recently installed president of the National Assembly, who is leading the effort to establish a transitional government, called the soldiers’ actions “a show of the generalized feeling” in the armed forces after Mr. Maduro was sworn in for a second term, on Jan. 10. His re-election in May was widely condemned as rigged, and the United States and several Latin American governments have said they do not consider him a legitimately elected leader.
“Our troops know that the chain of command is broken due to the usurpation of the presidency,” Mr. Guaidó wrote on Twitter on Monday. “We don’t want the security forces to split apart or clash, we want them to stand united on the side of the people, the Constitution and against the usurpation.”
Mr. Maduro first came to power in a snap vote after the death of President Hugo Chávez in 2013, after the former leader anointed him successor. He has tightened his grip on power over the years, and unrest within the armed forces has grown. Dozens of Venezuelan military officers have been detained in recent months on suspicion of plotting coups.
As residents in the area of the uprising awoke to the sound of clashes, many took to the streets to support the rebelling troops, according to videos posted online. Seeking to keep protests from growing, security officers fired tear gas, according to residents.
The beginning of Mr. Maduro’s new term drew an international outcry that has left the Venezuelan government more isolated than ever before. It also invigorated the opposition, which had appeared rudderless and largely ineffectual since a wave of protests in 2017 was crushed by the security forces.
Mr. Guaidó and other opposition leaders have convened town hall-style meetings across Venezuela in an effort to build broad support for their vision of a transitional government. Those meetings, known as cabildos, have been attended by thousands of people. Some have been held in poor districts that have traditionally been bedrocks of support for Mr. Maduro’s political party.
Mr. Guaidó has called for nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday, which opposition leaders hope will show that their bid to replace Mr. Maduro has widespread support. The armed forces’ backing is key to the effort, Juan Andrés Mejía, an opposition lawmaker who has addressed some of the recent town hall meetings.
“We need to appeal to their conscience and create incentives for them,” he said.